Prevent Firearm Suicide

Firearms are the leading method of suicide in San Diego County. Over a 10-year period in San Diego County, 1,451 people died of suicides involving firearms (San Diego County Health and Human Services (HHSA), Emergency Medical Services, Medical Examiner Database, 2008–2017). Every step we can take to put “speed bumps” or barriers between someone’s thoughts of suicide and access to means to end their life reduces the risk of a suicide attempt. With firearms being the most lethal and also most common means of suicide deaths, it is important to reduce access to firearms to those having thoughts of suicide.

Here are some tips to help you keep yourself or a loved one safe.

1. Learn the warning signs for suicide. The risk is greater if a behavior is new or has increased and if it seems related to a painful event, loss, or change. If someone you care about is showing one or more of the warning signs, have them or help them call the San Diego Access and Crisis Line at 1-888-724-7240.

2. Keep guns securely stored at all times. A key principle of firearm safety is to keep guns securely stored at all times. This is especially important when someone who is having thoughts of suicide may be able to access them. Keeping firearms in locked gun cases, using gun locks, and storing firearms in a certified gun safe are key steps that can prevent unwanted access to firearms. As an additional safety precaution, consider storing the gun safe key in a separate location outside of the home, such as with friends or family.

3. Have a Conversation about Suicide Prevention.
Individuals in the gun-owning community have strong feelings about their rights and desires to own and possess firearms. Therefore, someone might hesitate to give up their firearms even if they or someone else in the home is thinking about suicide. Or perhaps you are having thoughts of suicide and worry about losing access to firearms by law enforcement. In any of these cases, the most important thing is to keep ourselves or our loved ones safe. Sometimes this means that access to firearms will have to be limited for a period of time.

When you are worried that someone may be having thoughts of suicide, the only way to really know is to have a conversation about suicide. This can be a difficult and often uncomfortable conversation, but it is vital to talk openly and ask directly: “Are you thinking about suicide?” Asking that question does not put the idea of suicide into someone’s head. It is also important to limit access to the means and methods by which someone could end their life. Below are a few suggestions for how to have this conversation.

  • “I care about you, and I want to help keep you safe. Do you mind if we talk about some things we can do to help make that happen?”
  • “I know a few places that will store firearms temporarily. Why don’t we go there and store your guns there until things settle down?”
  • If your loved one won’t let the firearms be taken from the home, there are some other strategies that might work. Consider asking if you could hold onto the keys to the gun safe or lock, or perhaps they could store all of the ammunition with you.
    • “If you don’t want to take the guns out of your home, would you mind if I hold onto the key to the gun safe/lock until things settle down?”
    • “How about I hold on to all of the ammo for a while then?

4. Consider additional safety precautions such as storing a firearm outside the home. Putting time and distance between a suicidal person and a gun can save a life. To keep yourself, your family, or your friends safe when experiencing thoughts of suicide, one of the most effective steps to take is to limit access to firearms or securing firearms safely outside of the home.

There are some things to consider before transferring firearms to a gun shop or to a family member or friend.

Storing a gun at a gun shop:

  • It’s important to remember that only the gun owner or their spouse is legally allowed to turn over a firearm for storage at a gun shop or gun range.
  • A background check for each gun will be required by the storage facility prior to the firearm being returned to the owner. (This means you will have to pay the background check fee for every firearm you had stored to have it returned to you.)
  • Many locations around San Diego County can safely store firearms.

Storing a gun with a friend or family member:

  • Family members or friends can only store or even temporarily transport or hold onto a firearm as long as they have a Firearm Permit (also known as “Firearm Qualification Card”). For more information on obtaining a Firearm Permit, visit: https://www.bsis.ca.gov/forms_pubs/fire_fact.shtml. This might seem like a lengthy process, but it is actually very straightforward and can be done at most gun stores.
  • In addition, a “Dealer Transfer Requirement” is required to transfer ownership of a firearm to anyone besides a spouse, child, grandchild, parent, or grandparent. This type of transfer can occur at most firearm gun shop/range locations. Fees will apply.
  • The same process will be followed to transfer ownership back once the situation has resolved.
  • The following are exceptions to the Dealer Transfer Requirement: Transfer of firearms between spouse and spouse, parents and children, and grandparents and grandchildren are exempt from the Dealer Transfer Requirement. The exemption does not apply to step-children/step-parents, brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles, or cousins. Important note: Even those exempt from the Dealer Transfer Requirement still have to obtain the Firearm Permit.
  • Additional safety tip: Any person transporting a firearm should be knowledgeable in firearm safety and utilize all recommended steps for safe transportation, including ensuring it is unloaded, in a locked gun case, and is being transported in the trunk of the car.

What can you expect when contacting the Access and Crisis Line 1-888-724-7240?

When you call the Access and Crisis Line, you will be quickly connected with a compassionate, knowledgeable, professional mental health counselor who is ready, willing, and able to help you 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, and in many different languages. If you have a firearm, you will not be added to a federal database by the Access and Crisis Line (ACL) counselor; your privacy and rights will be respected.

The Access and Crisis Line counselor will listen to you, explore options, and collaboratively discuss the next steps to help you and or your loved ones; anyone may use this free service.

  • Access: Counselors conduct a brief screening over the phone to determine the most appropriate mental health and/or drug and alcohol treatment services to best meet your individual needs.
  • Crisis intervention: Counselors provide caring support and apply their clinical experience and formal training to help anyone experiencing crisis: mental and/or emotional pain, anger, loss, isolation, confusion, agitation, anger, anxiety, reckless behavior, increased use of alcohol or drugs, thoughts of killing themselves, etc. Only when all earnest de-escalation efforts haven’t resolved the situation and imminent risk is present will an ACL counselor engage first responders in order to protect life.