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Secure Firearm Storage is Key To Preventing Veteran Suicides

Written by Tom Chiodo Contributor Developing documentaries & special projects for public media.


Feb. 22, 2024 Forbes

Use a gun lock to secure a firearm in the home and prevent access during a mental health crisis.

According to the 2023 National Veteran Suicide Prevention Annual Report from the US Department of Veterans Affairs, 6,392 Veterans died by suicide in 2021, reflecting an increase of 11.6% over the previous year. The report reveals Veteran suicide deaths continue to disproportionately involve firearms, with firearms used in 72.2% of Veteran suicides, compared with 52.2% for non-Veterans. Alarmingly, firearm suicide rates for Veteran women were 281.1% higher than civilian women in 2021.

Multiple factors and events can heighten the risk of suicidal behavior among Veterans; however, during periods of increased suicide risk, access to lethal means significantly raises the chances of a fatal outcome from suicidal actions. In 2021, the Biden-Harris Administration identified lethal means safety, including secure storage of firearms and medications, as their Priority Goal #1 for reducing Veteran and service member suicide. Veterans are more likely to own a firearm compared with civilians; the VA reports that nearly half of all Veterans own one or more firearms. Even though many Veterans are experienced with firearms due to their military training, 1 in 3 Veteran firearm owners do not follow the firearm industry’s recommendations for securely storing firearms in the home. Although removing firearms from the home is ideal for those at risk of suicide, practicing responsible firearm and ammunition storage serves as a crucial alternative measure in preventing suicide among US Veterans.

Secure Firearm and Ammunition Storage Protects Veterans and Their Families

Firearms are the primary method of suicide for Veterans, service members, and their families. Having a firearm in the household increases the risk 3-fold that someone in the home will die by suicide. While 88% of men who die by suicide with a firearm in the US use their own weapon, the risk is not restricted to the firearm owner: 79% of youth and 32% of women who die by suicide use a family member’s gun.

Hiding a loaded firearm in a closet, drawer, or similar location is not enough to safely store your gun. Family members including children often know of such hiding places, which increases their risk of accessing lethal means during a mental health crisis.

What is Secure Firearm and Ammunition Storage, and How Does it Save Lives?

Firearm safety involves not only careful handling but also ensuring that firearms are locked, unloaded, and stored separately from ammunition when not in use. Research shows that suicide risk is significantly reduced when firearms are stored separately from ammunition. Additionally, it is crucial to educate and empower loved ones and fellow Veterans to utilize secure storage practices for firearms.

“Being a Veteran or having a firearm does not mean you are personally at risk of suicide. Suicide is complex. Many unseen factors can contribute to someone’s risk and can culminate in a self-injurious action in a moment of extreme pain and hopelessness. That moment of increased risk is usually temporary,” said Alexander Silva, who oversees Military Programs at the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP). “We know that the chance of someone dying is greater when they have a gun in the home and they are also at risk for suicide. Firearms, compared to other lethal means, don’t allow for much time for the suicidal urge to pass.”

In many cases, the duration of the suicidal process, from thought to action, is less than ten minutes. Safe storage practices increase the time and space between the decision to take one’s life, and the ability to make an actual attempt. In a moment of crisis, a person’s thinking becomes less flexible, and if they don’t have access to a lethal method, they are unlikely to shift methods in the moment. If you can help a person survive the immediate crisis and suicidal urge by keeping firearms securely stored, it can save their life.

How Can I Responsibly Store Firearms and Ammunition?

Many people will remove firearms from their home for a variety of reasons including travel, grandchildren visiting, showings for potential home buyers, or not feeling in control. If you do not plan to remove a firearm from your home, there are several ways to secure a firearm, and some options include a cable lock, gun case, lock box, or gun safe.

  • Cable Lock: A cable lock runs through the barrel of a gun to prevent it from being fired accidentally, while protecting it from theft. Veterans can order a cable lock from the Suicide Prevention Coordinator at their local medical VA facility or places where gunlocks are sold such as online distributors and gun shops.
  • Gun Case: A gun case can be used to transport a registered firearm and conceal the weapon in the home. For suicide prevention, use an external lock and give the key or combination to a person that you trust.
  • Gun Safe or Lockbox: A large gun safe can allow firearm owners to store multiple weapons in one place, while a smaller safe can be used for secure storage in a vehicle. A lockbox is lighter than a gun safe and can also be utilized for the legal transportation of registered guns. For added security, use a biometric lock instead of a key or combination.

In addition to securing your firearm, ensure that ammunition is locked and stored separately from guns. For increased safety, ask someone that you trust to help you with secure storage, such as a friend, spouse, therapist, or a fellow Veteran. If you are worried about keeping a gun in the home, you may be able to store your weapon with a loved one or at a gun shop. A few states have created safe storage maps to help owners identify secure locations to temporarily store their firearms. However, every state has its own laws about out-of-home gun storage, so it’s important to do your research on storage laws in your state before moving forward. is a resource to help make decisions about temporarily reducing access to lethal means like firearms, sharp objects, or other household items.

We can all play a role in preventing suicide by promoting secure firearm storage, encouraging and helping implement an action plan with those in our lives for our Veterans or service members, as well as increasing awareness and education in our communities by volunteering to fight suicide, and sharing suicide prevention and mental health resources.

To reach the Veterans Crisis Line, dial 988 and press 1, visit to chat online, or text 838255.

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About the Author

Tom Chiodo

Tom Chiodo Executive producer Special Projects, National Productions at WETA, flagship PBS station in Washington D.C., developing primetime documentary films and original digital content, accompanied by national impact and engagement campaigns, for 330+ PBS stations. Recent projects include Ken Burns presents Hiding in Plain Sight: Youth Mental Illness (2022); Emmy-nominated documentary The Gene: An Intimate History (2020). More than thirty years experience in media, communications, television, and entertainment industry. Senior positions at Entertainment Industry Foundation, Rubenstein Associates, U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, and Massachusetts Department of Pubic Health.  Co-author “Home Care for Respirator Dependent Children” New England Journal of Medicine. Contributing writer  2023 judge for National Academy of Television Arts & Sciences News & Documentary Emmy Awards.

The “Hiding in Plain Sight” Blog supports the 2022 documentary series Hiding in Plain Sight: Youth Mental Illness (Now streaming on the PBS App)and the upcoming 2025 series, Hiding in Plain SightAdult Mental Illness, produced and directed by Ewers Brothers Productions, executive produced by Ken Burns, and presented by WETA, the PBS flagship station in our nation’s capital.

You are not alone. If you or someone you know is in crisis, whether they are considering suicide or not, please call 988 or the toll-free National Suicide Lifeline at 800-273-TALK (8255) to speak with a trained crisis counselor. If you don’t want to talk on the phone, you can also text. Crisis Text Line offers free mental health support. Text “10-18” or “SCRUBS” to 741741 for help. The call and text lines are open 24 hours a day.

Related Series & Films is a mental health resource, not a crisis or suicide response website. If you are in crisis, or experiencing thoughts of suicide, please call or text the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline at 988. The service is free and available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.