Recommendations for Families
If you’re concerned that a member of your household may be suicidal, there are steps you can take to help keep them safe.
1. Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255) for support and to find out about resources in your area. You can also urge the family member to call the hotline him or herself for support. It’s accessible around the clock.
2. Reduce easy access to dangerous substances at home. That includes:
- Firearms – Because firearms are the most lethal among suicide methods, it is particularly important that you remove them until things improve at home, or, second best, lock them very securely. See below for Questions about Removing or Storing Firearms.
- Medications – Don’t keep lethal doses at home. Your doctor, pharmacist, or the poison control center (1-800-222-1222) may be able to help you determine safe quantities for the medicines you need to keep on hand. Click here for information on how to dispose of excess medications safely. Be particularly aware of keeping prescription painkillers (such as oxycodone and methadone) under lock and key both because of their lethality and their potential for abuse.
- Alcohol – Alcohol can both increase the chance that a person makes an unwise choice, like attempting suicide, and increase the lethality of a drug overdose. Keep only small quantities at home.
3. Learn more about helping a family member who is feeling suicidal or has recently attempted suicide. Specific guidance for foster families is available here.
(Download PDF of “Recommendations for Families”)
Questions about Storing Firearms
If a member of your family is going through a mental health problem and is at increased risk of suicide, the safest option for any household firearms is to store them away from home until the person has recovered.
- Self-Storage Facilities – Many self-storage facilities welcome storage of firearms. Those that offer storage drawers are the least expensive option for someone who only needs to store a few handguns. Many facilities don’t offer drawers, and the smallest unit size is a 5 foot by 5 foot unit. These go for $30-$75/month depending on location and whether they’re climate-controlled. Guns should be stored unloaded. Some facilities allow storage of ammunition, others don’t. Some facilities don’t allow storage of firearms but assume that there may in fact be firearms in their units since they don’t see what people put in their units. At 24 hour facilities you can retrieve your property at any time as long as you’ve been paying your storage bills. One advantage of self-storage is that retrieving your guns does not involve a background check. You’ll find many facilities online.
- Gun shops and shooting ranges – Some gun shops and shooting ranges rent lockers for a fee. In these cases, if only you have the key to your locker, there is no need for a background check when you retrieve the guns (as they remain under your control, since you have the key). If guns are stored at a gun shop and are under the control of the gunshop (that is, the gun owner doesn’t have access to the vault or locker), the guns will be logged onto the shop’s books, and the gun owner will need to go through a background check to retrieve the guns. Some shops and ranges offer storage as a commercial service, others as a courtesy to customers, and others do not offer storage.
- Storing with friends or family – Storing firearms with someone you trust is a comfortable and cost-free option for many people. Rules depend on your state; the NRA-ILA website and the Giffords Law Center website summarize prohibited persons under local laws. Also see our listing of state laws that may constrain temporary transfers.
- Pawn shops – Pawn shops will take guns in exchange for a “loan” and charge a monthly interest fee (e.g. on a loan of $100 at 20%, the interest owed every month will be $20). To retrieve the guns you repay the loan, pay all interest due, pass a background check, and fill out federal firearm paperwork.
Some law enforcement departments (not all) will take firearms. Some offer temporary storage, some offer permanent disposal options, and some offer both.
- First, call your local police department, sheriff or state police.
- Identify yourself and explain your concern.
- Ask for the Officer on Duty; write down his/her name and the department’s name.
- Arrange with the officer a time and location for him/her to pick up the firearms, if they offer that service.
- Do not bring the firearms to the police department unless told to by the Officer on Duty.
Do the Firearms Need to Be Ready to Go in a Certain Way?
- If you know how to safely unload the firearms, unload it.
- If you do not know how to unload the firearms, tell the Officer before he/she arrives to pick it up.
- If the Officer asks you to bring the firearms to the police station, name who will bring it, what the person looks like, and the time the person will arrive.
What Happens to the Firearms?
- The gun owner and the officer will complete some paperwork.
- What happens next depends on the department. If the owner no longer wants it, some departments may have it melted down while others may sell it.
- If they store your guns, in most cases, you will need to go through a background check to get them back.
- Departments that offer temporary storage may have different policies regarding how to retrieve it (e.g., if applicable in your state, the gun owner may need to bring in a valid firearm owner ID card).
What if Storage or Disposal Isn’t an Option?
- Lock the unloaded firearms in a gun safe or tamper-proof storage lockbox with ammunition locked in a separate location. (BETTER YET, don’t keep ammunition at home for now.) Trigger locks and cable locks are sold in sporting goods stores and where firearms are sold. Some police departments offer free locks. Be sure the keys and combinations to the locks are kept away from the person at risk.
- If you already lock your guns but the at-risk person has access, change the combinations or buy new locks and don’t disclose the location of the keys. Remember: This does not guarantee safety. Family members often know each other’s hiding places.
- Another good option is to disassemble your guns, and lock up a key component, like the slide, or the firing pin, separately from the gun.
What if a Family Member Carries Firearms as Part of the Job?
- Store the gun at work if possible. If not, then…
- Remove all the firearms but the one required for work and lock it very securely. Lock ammunition separately.
- Remember: Using locking devices or locked storage does not guarantee absolute safety, but does present a barrier to an impulsive act.
People Prohibited from Receiving Firearms
Under federal law, 18 U.S.C. § 922(d), no person may purchase or possess a firearm if they fall into the following categories, nor may any person knowingly sell, deliver, or otherwise transfer a firearm to any person falling into these categories:
- Is under indictment for or has been convicted in any court of a felony;
- Is a fugitive from justice;
- Is an unlawful user of a controlled substance (drug user);
- Has been adjudicated as a mental defective or committed to a mental institution;
- Is an illegal alien;
- Has been dishonorably discharged from the armed forces;
- Has renounced his or her citizenship;
- Is subject to a court order issued after a hearing which restrains him or her from intimate partner violence; or
- Has been convicted of a misdemeanor domestic violence offense.