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Everytown For Gun Safety, Moms Demand Action, Students Demand Action Respond to White House-Backed Plan for Reducing Suicide Among Veterans

NEW YORK –– Everytown for Gun Safety and its grassroots networks, Moms Demand Action and Students Demand Action, released the following statements about the Trump administration’s newly released “National Research Strategy for the President’s Roadmap to Empower Veterans and End the National Tragedy of Suicide (PREVENTS).” The strategy is intended to advance efforts to improve quality of life and reduce the rate of suicide among veterans, but falls short dramatically when addressing firearm suicide. 

Although the PREVENTS plan lays out some needed solutions for veteran suicide, it addresses firearm suicide sparingly, even though gun suicides make up 68% of veteran suicides. Any veteran suicide prevention strategy must talk about firearms explicitly, because firearm suicide is preventable and a pervasive public health crisis in veteran communities. Over 53,000 military veterans died by gun suicide in the period between 2005 and 2017 — more than 13 times the number of service members who were killed in action during the United States engagements in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria combined. 

Last year, the Trump administration published a Request for Information, seeking input on the factors influencing veteran suicide. Everytown submitted a comment in response to the request to provide guidance on the role of firearms in the veteran suicide epidemic and on the specific policies and practices that prevent firearm suicide, and yet the final plan still deemphasized the deadly intersection between veteran suicide and firearms.

“Any roadmap for reducing veteran suicide that does not comprehensively address gun suicide is incomplete, and that certainly applies to the PREVENTS plan,” said John Feinblatt, president of Everytown for Gun Safety. “Glossing over firearm suicide in the plan is irresponsible, dangerous, and another example of how the Trump administration does not take gun violence seriously.”

“To talk about suicide without adequately talking about the role of guns does a disservice to the crisis, and raises questions about the seriousness of this plan,” said Shannon Watts, founder of Moms Demand Action. “The PREVENTS plan doesn’t comprehensively address the deadliest method of veteran suicide, which is firearm suicide. The least the administration can do is expand and update its plan to include more information on stopping gun suicides.”

“As veterans, we are acutely aware that our brothers and sisters are at significantly increased risk of suicide by gun,” said Chris Marvin, a member of the Everytown Veteran Advisory Council. “It’s very disappointing that the VA and the administration barely mentioned guns in such an important report. It is up to veterans to stand up for our own and demand that veteran gun suicide is studied, understood, and prevented.”

Access to firearms is strongly associated with an increased risk of suicide, and veterans are more likely to own firearms than non-veterans. Making up over two-thirds of all suicides, firearms are the most common method of suicide among veterans and are by far the most lethal — with a 90%  fatality rate. More than four times as many veterans die by firearm suicide than by the next common method. 

The PREVENTS strategy can not effectively tackle this country’s veteran suicide crisis without addressing the deadly intersection between veteran suicide and firearms. An average of 4,200 veterans die by firearm suicide every year — about 11 deaths a day. In implementing its strategy, the PREVENTS task force should comprehensively address policies and practices focused on disrupting access to firearms, including temporarily removing firearms from individuals in times of crisis, responsibly storing firearms to prevent access by veterans at risk of suicide, and building public awareness about the inherent risks of firearm access and suicide:

  • Temporary firearm removal during times of crisis is critical to preventing suicide. Veterans with firearms in the home should have a plan in place to temporarily store their firearms with a friend or relative or in a storage facility in times of crisis. Families of veterans should also have a plan to intervene by either assisting their at-risk relative in storing their firearm or relying on extreme risk laws by asking a judge to temporarily remove access to firearms. Given the Veterans Health Administration’s (VHA) prominent position in providing health care to veterans, and its ability to identify at-risk veterans and provide life-saving interventions, the VHA should, when not in conflict with patient confidentiality, work within established extreme risk laws to protect at-risk veterans by temporarily preventing their access to firearms. The PREVENTS task force should comprehensively address policies and practices that temporarily remove access to firearms when veterans are in crisis.
  • Secure storage — defined as storing guns locked, unloaded, and separate from ammunition — is associated with lower rates of suicide among youth and middle-aged and older adults. Veterans are more likely to own firearms than non-veterans, and of those veterans who own firearms, more than half own multiple types of guns. In working to increase the adoption of lethal means safety programs, the PREVENTS task force should focus on programs that promote secure firearm storage, as well as on research explicitly looking at the most effective way to message and promote secure storage among veterans. 
  • Public awareness about the public health risk of veteran suicide is important and the PREVENTS strategy for a public health campaign is a step in the right direction. However, it fails to address firearm suicide. The PREVENTS task force’s public awareness campaign should aim to build public awareness about the inherent risks of firearm access and suicide and should educate the public about responsible storage, about extreme risk laws, and about disrupting firearms access to people at risk of harming themselves.