Guidelines on Storing

Lethal Means Safely


Source:  Harvard School of Public Health. For more information, see

Recommendations for Families

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. Please see below for further information on removing and 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. Please see below for more 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.

If you’re concerned that a member of your household may be suicidal, there are steps you can take to help keep them safe.

Three practical steps:

3. There are also steps you can take to help a family member who is feeling suicidal or has recently attempted suicide. Please visit the websites listed below for more information.

For more information: Last updated: 4/28/11

Questions on Removing and Storing Firearms:

Means Matter

Medication Disposal:

Prescription Safety

Helping a Family Member:

Help Guide

For more information:

Last updated: 4/28/11

Questions about Removing or Storing Firearms

(Adaptedfrom Maine Youth Suicide Prevention Program )


A lethal weapon available to a person in the depths of despair can end a life in an instant!

Firearms are used in five out of ten suicides in the U.S. Removing lethal means from a vulnerable person, especially a youth, can save a life. It’s like keeping the car keys from a person who has had too much to drink.

Who Can Help Store or Dispose of a Firearm?

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; be sure to write down his/her name and the department’s


• Arrange with the officer a time and location for him/her to pick up the firearm, if they offer

that service.

• Do not bring the firearm to the police department unless told to by the Officer on Duty.

Does the Firearm Need to Be Ready to Go in a Certain Way?

What Happens to the Firearm?

• If you know how to safely unload the firearm, unload it.

• If you do not know how to unload the firearm, tell the Officer before he/she arrives to pick it up.

• If the Officer asks you to bring the firearm to the police station, name who will bring it, what the person looks like, and the time the person will arrive.

• 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.

• 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 Law Enforcement Storage or Disposal Isn’t an Option?

Other options:

• Temporarily store the firearm at the home of a trusted relative or friend. Be sure the person at risk cannot get the firearm before or after it is removed.

Note: Not all people can hold the guns for you. Check the list of prohibited persons under federal law.
• Lock the unloaded firearm in a gun safe or tamper-proof storage box with ammunition locked in a separate location. (BETTER YET, don’t keep ammunition at home.) Trigger locks are sold in sporting goods stores and where firearms are sold. Some police departments offer free locks. Be sure the keys and storage box combinations are kept away from the person at risk. Remember: This does not guarantee safety. Youths generally know their parents’ hiding places.

• Do not place the firearm in a bank safe deposit box. Most states have laws that prohibit carrying a weapon into federally insured buildings such as banks.

• Sell the firearm following the appropriate legal guidelines.

What if a Family Member Carries a Firearm 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.

Prohibited Persons

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.National Suicide Hotline 1-800-273-TALK (8255)

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