Last update: 14:45 | 09/10/2017
Most law enforcement agencies and many gun retailers may be willing to temporarily store firearms to help prevent suicide, a recent U.S. study suggests.
Half of suicide deaths in the U.S. involve guns, and the vast majority of attempted suicides with firearms result in death, researchers note in the American Journal of Public Health. Access to firearms can also make people more likely to consider and attempt suicide, some previous research has found.
For the current study, researchers surveyed 448 law enforcement agencies and 95 gun retailers in eight states about their willingness to store guns and their recommendations about safe firearm storage.
Overall, 75 percent of law enforcement agencies and 48 percent of retailers said they offered temporary gun storage, the study found.
“Discovering the willingness and the kinds of circumstances in which these community-based organizations will voluntarily store guns for families is important to share with mental and physical health care providers as well as with families,” said lead study author Carol Runyan of the Colorado School of Public Health in Aurora.
Law enforcement agencies were most willing to consider this when gun owners expressed concerns about the mental health of a family member who might attempt suicide, while retailers were more receptive than police to storing firearms when a gun owner had houseguests or was going away on vacation.
Both retailers and police recommended locking guns inside the home, but law enforcement agencies were slightly more likely to suggest keeping firearms outside the home, the study also found.
The survey was sent to law enforcement agencies and gun retailers in Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming.
While the process and laws for gun storage may vary, with some places requiring background checks or charging fees, the findings suggest that it makes sense for families to explore their options for keeping firearms outside the home when suicide is a concern, Runyan said by email.
Guns in the home should be stored locked, unloaded and separate from ammunition.
One limitation of the study is that it didn’t explore what motivated law enforcement agencies or retailers to consider or refuse gun storage.
“If local police agencies or firearm retailers do not provide services, the family should consider loaning the firearm to another family member, checking with banks for safe deposit boxes, self-storage facilities, shooting ranges or even pawn shops,” said Russell Griffin, a researcher at the University of Alabama at Birmingham who wasn’t involved in the study.
Each place may have their own rules, and the family would need to ensure that guns are allowed, Griffin said by email. Usually explosives such as ammunition are not permitted, but it’s usually legal to give the gun to a family member as long as they don’t have a felony conviction or other criminal history that prevents having weapons, he added.
Offsite storage is the best option because it creates the biggest barrier to getting a gun, said Dr. Joseph Simonetti of the VA Rocky Mountain Mental Illness Research, Education and Clinical Center at the Denver VA Medical Center.
“Many suicidal crises are extremely brief,” Simonetti, who wasn’t involved in the study, said by email.
“One study found that about 25 percent of those who survived a suicide attempt only waited 5 minutes before they decided to end their life to take action,” Simonetti said. “So any step that increases the time and distance between a person in crisis and a lethal action will save lives.”