WASHINGTON (AP) — The Biden administration is rolling out a new initiative aimed at reducing the number of suicides by gun and addressing the significant increases in suicides by members of the military and veterans.
Officials say it’s an unprecedented focus by the federal government on reducing the risk of suicide through awareness and training campaigns and new regulations to increase the availability of gun-storage products.
The plan calls for federal agencies — including the Defense Department, Department of Homeland Security, the Justice Department, the Department of Health and Human Services, the Department of Veterans Affairs and the Department of Transportation’s emergency medical services office — to encourage safer storage of guns and training for counselors, crisis responders and others.
The effort also includes the Justice Department finalizing a rule, first proposed in 2016, that would require stores that sell firearms to also offer secure gun storage and safety devices.
John Feinblatt, president of the advocacy group Everytown for Gun Safety, praised the efforts on gun storage for “blazing a new path” to keep guns away from people who could be a danger to themselves.
In 2019, firearms were the most common method used in suicide deaths in the United States, accounting for nearly 24,000 deaths, little over half of all suicide deaths, according to federal health statistics. Experts say many people who take their lives using guns have quick access to firearms and have tended to be gun owners or their family members.
As part of the White House plan, the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives will distribute a guide for firearms dealers that spells out safety steps required under the law and additional steps the government recommends.
The administration said ATF would also “seek to revoke the licenses of dealers the first time that they violate federal law,” with limited exceptions for “extraordinary circumstances.” Those violations would include selling guns to someone who can’t legally own them, failing to run a background check, falsifying federal records or refusing to cooperate in required ATF inspections.
The Defense Department’s annual year suicide report, released in September, showed that 580 military personnel, including 384 active-duty service members, died by suicide in 2020. The suicide rate among active-duty service members has increased since 2015, the report said.
Many firearms dealers have been stepping up suicide prevention efforts as the number of gun sales in the United States hit a historic high in January, continuing a surge that began as the coronavirus pandemic took hold in early 2020. Some firearms dealers also have been handing out or offering cards with the phone number of suicide-prevention hotlines and tips to identify signs of depression or other mental health issues.