The National Center for Veterans Studies at the University of Utah released research on Friday that offers new insight into suicide prevention among military personnel.
The study surveyed more than 1,600 active-duty military members nation-wide to better understand the relationship between suicidal thoughts and safe gun storage practices at home — where two-thirds of military suicides take place.
The study’s lead author, Dr. Craig Bryan, said their findings addressed a vital research gap and yielded mixed results.
“The good news was that military personnel who were actively suicidal were less likely to have a gun in the home,” he said. “The bad news, though, was that if a suicidal service member had a gun in or around the home, only one-third of them actually used safe storage practices.”
A large body of research has shown that keeping firearms locked and unloaded in a separate location from ammunition sigificantly reduces the risk of gun suicide. Over 70% of military suicides are committed with a firearm — and in Utah, which has the sixth highest suicide rate in the nation, those practices are particularily important.
Dr. Bryan says suicide by gun should be considered a public safety problem, not a mental illness issue. He compares safe storage practices to wearing a seatbelt when we drive.
“It’s just a safety strategy — a very simple thing that we can do that actually reduces the likelihood of us dying during an unexpected accident,” he said. “Now, this is in essence what safe storage practices are for firearms. It works in the exact same way.”
Kim Myers, Utah’s Suicide Prevention Coordinator, agreed wholeheartedly with Dr. Bryan’s analogy.
She said she finds it encouraging to know that suicidal members of the military are now less likely to have a gun in the home.
“What we could hope … is that it means that the efforts that the military and Veterans Affairs … are making to have really frank conversations about the potential for risk for suicide and the increased risk when a gun is present are maybe starting to work,” she said.
Myers added that all Utahns can access free gun locks through the Utah Department of Public Safety.
If you or someone you know may be considering suicide, contact the Utah Crisis Line at 801-587-3000 or the Crisis Text Line by texting 741741.