Firearms are the most common method of suicide in the United States, accounting for two-thirds of all firearms deaths. Before deciding whether to keep a firearm in their home, families should know that having access to a gun triples one’s risk of death by suicide. If they choose to purchase a firearm, responsible gun owners should safely store their firearms to prevent individuals who could be a danger to themselves or others from using the weapon. Additionally, firearms dealers have a responsibility to take commonsense steps to keep their customers and communities safe.

Today, the Biden Administration is announcing three new actions that will help to prevent suicide, including by promoting safe firearms storage and clarifying best practices for firearms dealers.

Studies have shown that reducing access to lethal means, including firearms and medications—particularly in times of crisis—can save lives. According to one study, “firearm owners who keep their firearms locked or unloaded were at least 60% less likely to die from firearm related suicide than those who store their firearms unlocked and/or loaded.” Suicide crises are often brief, so strategies that create “time and space” between a person in crisis and their access to a firearm are lifesaving.

Launching an Unprecedented Focus on Improving Lethal Means Safety in the Military and Veteran Suicide Prevention Strategy

The Biden Administration’s comprehensive military and veteran suicide prevention strategy, released today, announces an unprecedented federal focus on improving lethal means safety as a tool to save lives. The Departments of Defense (DOD), Health and Human Services (HHS), Homeland Security (DHS), Justice (DOJ), and Veterans Affairs (VA), as well as the Office of Emergency Medical Services within the Department of Transportation (DOT), will jointly create a plan for addressing lethal means safety awareness, education, training, and program evaluation. The agencies will work together to identify, develop, and test any tailored messaging, and they will base their activities on expert guidance (including from suicide prevention experts and law enforcement professionals) and data. This campaign will include plans to:

  • Educate the public on lethal means safety, and in turn encourage safer storage practices, safety planning, and time and space behavioral measures for crisis response. The agencies are planning to use:
    • Professionally developed public service announcements;
    • Paid media promoted via social media platforms as well as internet search engines;
    • Toolkits developed with industry partners, as appropriate, designed to amplify campaign calls to action;
    • Multi-state storage maps to help individuals find where they can safely store firearms outside of their homes; and
    • Lethal means safety training opportunities and engagement for non-medical counselors, crisis responders, health care professionals, family members, and other gate keepers, both within the government and within non-government community service delivery systems. 
  • Significantly increase Lethal Means Safety training engagement and completion for VA Community Care Network providers and for healthcare providers in the community. 
  • Expand VA Safety Planning in the Emergency Department (SPED) into community healthcare systems and Emergency Departments in an effort to increase implementation of evidence-based suicide prevention safety planning processes and to increase care management and coordination for high-risk individuals who were not admitted for medical or psychiatric reasons. The expansion effort will also include training family members and supporters on how to use safety plans.

Making it Easier for Customers to Obtain Secure Gun Storage or Safety Devices

In 2016, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) proposed a rule clarifying firearms dealers’ statutory obligations to make available for purchase compatible secure gun storage or safety devices. The Department of Justice plans to soon finalize a rule on this topic, including responding to public comments.

Promoting Best Practices for Federal Firearms Dealers, Including Customer Education Regarding Safety and Security for Firearms Owners

ATF will issue a best practices guide to all federal firearms dealers to remind them about the important steps they are legally required to take, and additional steps they are encouraged to take, to keep their customers and communities safe. The guide includes:

  • Materials for Federal Firearms Licensees (FFLs) to distribute to customers to help them better understand their legal obligations as firearms owners, as well as practical steps they can take to facilitate the safe storage of firearms and keep firearms out of the hands of people prohibited from possessing firearms.
  • A summary of the Department of Justice’s zero-tolerance approach to willful violations of the Gun Control Act and implementing regulations that put public safety at risk. Absent extraordinary circumstances that would need to be justified to the ATF Director, ATF will seek to revoke the licenses of dealers the first time that they violate federal law by willfully 1) transferring a firearm to a prohibited person, 2) failing to run a required background check, 3) falsifying records, such as a firearms transaction form, 4) failing to respond to an ATF tracing request, or 5) refusing to permit ATF to conduct an inspection in violation of the law.
  • A reminder regarding FFLs’ obligations to run background checks for firearms transfers, and the unlawfulness of selling to prohibited persons.
  • Recommendations on how to implement safety and security measures to secure firearm inventory, including the use of alarm and video surveillance systems, to prevent firearm theft and loss.

These actions build on the Biden Administration’s previous gun violence prevention actions. Earlier this year, the Justice Department issued model extreme risk protection order legislation for states. Extreme risk protection order laws are another strategy for reducing access to lethal means, allowing family members or law enforcement to petition for a court order temporarily barring people in crisis from accessing firearms if they present a danger to themselves or others. The President continues to urge Congress to pass an appropriate national “red flag” law, as well as legislation incentivizing states to pass their own versions of these laws.

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