P Scott

Judith Katzburg

Linda DegutisToday’s guest bloggers are Patti Scott, DNP, RN, PNP, NCSN; Judith R. Katzburg, PhD, MPH, RN; and Linda C. Degutis, DrPH, MSN, with input from the APHA Intersectional Council’s Gun Violence Prevention Workgroup.

As the coronavirus pandemic causes stress across the U.S., public health professionals need to be aware of the potential for an increase in death by suicide. Economic stress, social isolation and decreased access to community and religious support are among the potential factors that may contribute to a potential increase in suicide attempts.

Firearms are the most common method used in completed suicides. Limiting access to firearms can decrease suicide risk. Since the onset of the pandemic, firearm sales in the U.S. have increased, with the FBI reporting a record-setting number of background checks — 3.7 million — in March alone.

While we don’t yet know the impact of the increased firearm sales on suicide, APHA’s Intersectional Council Gun Violence Prevention Workgroup is recommending a comprehensive, evidence-based public health approach that includes removing firearms from the homes of people who are at risk for suicide. 

If firearms cannot be removed, it’s critical that they’re stored safely and aren’t accessible to those at risk. This can mean the difference between life and death for a person in crisis. Some guidelines for safe firearm storage in the home include:

  • Keep firearms unloaded.
  • Store firearms unloaded in an approved lock box or gun safe.
  • Keep ammunition separate from the firearm and also locked up.
  • Regularly reassess to ensure that firearms are safely stored, especially during periods of increased stress or emotional crisis.
  • Ensure that at-risk people do not have access to the keys or combinations for lock boxes or safes where firearms are stored.

Responsible firearm owners can help prevent suicide by taking proactive steps to protect their families and friends. If the firearm owner or a loved one is feeling depressed, anxious or suicidal, it’s important to discuss removing firearms from the home. This can be difficult, but there are supports and mechanisms available. The most important actions include checking with the local police department about where to bring firearms that are removed from the home. 

Some states have red flag laws that allow firearms to be temporarily removed from a person who is a risk to themselves or someone else, with the order of a judge. If an at-risk person lives in a state with a red flag law, seeking guidance from local law enforcement about how to initiate an order for firearm removal is a critical step in suicide prevention.

During this difficult time for our nation, people are facing many challenges. We must be aware of the potential increased risk for suicide and take preventive measures. Take good care of yourselves, your families and communities.

If you or a loved one is in crisis, talk to someone immediately. Contact the Suicide Prevention Lifeline online or by calling 1-800-273-8255. A list of risk factors and warning signs for suicide is available. Share suicide prevention, mental health and firearm violence prevention resources from APHA.