Vets, cops should teach firearm storage safety to troops, study finds

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Editor’s Note: If you or a loved one is experiencing thoughts of self-harm or suicide, you can confidentially seek assistance via the Military/Veterans Crisis Line by calling 988 and dialing 1, via text at 838255 or chat at VeteransCrisisLine.net. You don’t need to be a VA beneficiary to use the service.

A key element in preventing suicide among troops and veterans could be the background of the people who deliver the message, according to a recent study on the effectiveness of safe firearm storage training.

The people best situated to teach firearms safety to troops are law enforcement officers, as well as other service members or veterans, according to a study by Rutgers University researchers published earlier this month.

“Law enforcement officers, military members, and veterans are ranked as highly credible sources by most subgroups of firearm-owning service members,” the study found. “Leveraging these voices in firearm safety conversations is necessary, may increase adherence to secure storage recommendations, and ultimately reduce suicide.”

More than half of military suicides are carried out with a personally owned firearm, according to Pentagon data.

Experts both inside and outside the military agree that one of the easiest ways to prevent suicide is to keep personally owned firearms in locked safes, with ammunition stored separately, because the time it takes to unlock and load a gun can be critical in reconsidering ending one’s life.

Currently, suicide prevention training is conducted either by unit leadership or by behavioral professionals, who may not be the most impactful messengers, according to the study’s findings.

Researchers surveyed 719 firearm-owning troops, asking them to rank a list of 20 sources by credibility. They then broke the respondents out into demographics to see which groups responded best to which sources.

Overall, respondents ranked military veterans as the most credible group of people to teach safe firearms storage, followed by law enforcement and then current service members.

Among white respondents, who made up 72% of the study subjects, police were third, behind veterans and current troops. And for Black respondents, 16% of the response group, law enforcement officers were top rated, followed by veterans and the National Rifle Association.

Broken down by service affiliation, soldiers and sailors found veterans the most credible, while it was current troops for Marines, and law enforcement for the Air Force and Coast Guard.

“This study highlights the need for more tailored secure storage messaging,” the researchers concluded. “…specifically, leveraging the voices of law enforcement, military members, and veterans will ensure that all races, sexes, and branches of military service members can be provided secure firearm storage messages from credible sources.”

Meghann Myers is the Pentagon bureau chief at Military Times. She covers operations, policy, personnel, leadership and other issues affecting service members.

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