Firearms account for the majority of suicide deaths in the US military and general population. The percentage of suicides resulting from firearms is higher in the military, however, and as such, the ratio of non-lethal to lethal suicide attempts is lower in the military than in the general population. In 2013, Congress passed the National Defense Authorization Act, which facilitated a Department of Defense (DoD) shift toward allowing commanding officers and clinicians to inquire about personal firearms with service members perceived as being at risk and also began giving free cable locks to firearm-owning military personnel. The purpose of this paper is to provide a preliminary understanding of the effectiveness of this change, the authors examined trends in firearm suicide attempts within the US military and general population from 2010 to 2015.
Data on non-lethal and lethal suicide attempts overall and within specific methods were extracted from the Department of Defense Suicide Event Report and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Web-based Injury Statistics Query and Reporting System (2011–2015).
Contrary to expectations, firearms were not utilized in a smaller proportion of suicide attempts within the military post-law change. Consistent with expectations, however, the ratio of non-lethal to lethal suicide attempts increased, particularly after the change in law, with the ratio in the military converging somewhat with that of the general population.
Overall, results were mixed, with only limited and tangential evidence that the change in law has proven effective. More precise data collection will be required in order to fully evaluate such laws.