Suicidal crises often escalate quickly. Nearly half (48%) of people who made a serious suicide attempt said they had first thought about making that attempt only minutes prior, according to one study. This means that, during an acute crisis, a person’s survival may come down to what methods are readily available—and how lethal they are.
Teens and adolescents have lower suicide rates than adults, but much higher rates of seriously considering suicide (at 22% for high school students versus 4% for those over 18). Youth suicide rates have persistently increased since 2008. The good news is that the vast majority of people who become suicidal recover.
The Jed Foundation (JED) is dedicated to protecting mental health and preventing suicide for teens and young adults. Because firearms are the most lethal method of suicide attempt (approximately 90% fatal), JED believes that promoting gun safety is integral to protecting the nation’s youth.
Here’s what the numbers tell us:
Importantly: Over 90% of those who make serious attempts and survive do not go on to die by suicide. This means that limiting access to the most lethal form of suicide attempt method will save lives.
When someone is in a moment of acute distress, simply buying them time allows them to find support or treatment, sustain recovery, and go on to enjoy a fulfilling life. That’s why JED’s work involves collaborating with schools, communities, firearm owners, and others to reduce the chances of a young person accessing a gun during a suicidal crisis.
Saving young people’s lives is the common ground upon which caring leaders and community members can meet to initiate meaningful discussions and advance substantial change. Greater gun safety is possible through a collective effort between families, schools, gun owner groups, clinicians, and legislators.
The Jed Foundation recommends the following:
- Families must take an active role in preventing youth firearm suicides. Approximately three-quarters of suicides occur at home. It is not recommended that gun owners hide their firearms, because determined young people will find them. But the safe storage of guns will protect the young people who live in—or visit—their homes.
Universal safe storage practices should include:
Schools can share practical, universal safe storage recommendations with students as part of health lessons or through support services, and pass along this information directly to the families of students who have been identified as being at risk for suicide.
Gun Owner Groups, like gun retailers and firearms instructors, should promote firearms safety to gun owners, with trainings and resources facilitated by collaborations between leading organizations like the National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSP) and the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP).
Clinicians should learn the basic principles of the means safety movement and undergo training in lethal means counseling, allowing them to inform and protect their own clients, families, and communities.
Legislators must write, sponsor, and advance bills that promote education, safe storage, background checks, age limits, and waiting periods. Utah offers a strong example of this type of work: The state passed an educational bill that encourages schools to provide lethal means safety recommendations to families of children expressing suicidal thoughts. Effective firearm safety legislation takes advantage of the fact that putting time and distance between a suicidal person and highly lethal means–often a gun–can save that person’s life.
- Locking all firearms, ideally unloaded, inside a gun safe or another well-made lockbox and ensuring youth have no independent access to the keys or combination;
- Storing ammunition separately and securely;
- Using cable or trigger locks when a safe is not available or as an added layer of protection when a safe is available;
- Securing self-defense firearms in a manner that provides rapid access for authorized users (such as a biometric safe) but limits access for all others (including those determined to be at heightened risk for suicide); and
- Storing firearms away from home voluntarily and temporarily, if a young person at home is suicidal or clearly struggling until they have recovered.
JED endorses the establishment of coalitions that bring together thought leaders with diverse backgrounds, including epidemiologists, health care providers, gun owners, shooting sports organizations, educators, and policymakers. Successful examples include Virginia’s Lock and Talk program, Washington’s Forefront Safer Homes, and Utah’s Live On Campaign. Through shared information, pooled resources, and a common mission, these coalitions can develop and advocate for sustained policies, practices, and systems to improve firearm safety and save lives.