I am Kyleanne Hunter, a US Marine Corps combat veteran, professor at the Air Force Academy. I’m here to answer your questions about how we can support veteran mental health – and as a gun owner, how safe gun storage can play a role in saving the l...
I’m Kyleanne Hunter and I spent over a decade as an officer in the United States Marine Corps, flying the AH-1W “Super Cobra” attack helicopter, with multiple combat deployments. I currently study suicide prevention in military and veteran communities. .
From both personal and scholarly experience, I know too well the battles that we as veterans are facing, especially this year—including mental health challenges like post-traumatic stress and depression, and economic anxiety in a challenging job market. The added stress of the pandemic is making navigating challenges even more difficult. Tragically, every day in the United States, 17 veterans die by suicide. When I hear that chilling number, I can’t help but think that many of these deaths may have been prevented with access to adequate mental health care, safe gun storage, and other interventions.
I include safe gun storage among those other lifesaving interventions because firearms are uniquely fatal, and the method used in the majority of completed veteran suicides. When someone has access to a gun in a moment of crisis, they rarely get a second chance to live a full life. And nearly half of all veterans, including myself, own at least one firearm.
If we want to truly honor our veterans every day, not only on Veterans Day, we must take action to support lifesaving interventions to prevent veteran suicide. And one easy step we can all take is storing any guns in our households safely, and having conversations with our friends and family about their gun storage practices and their mental wellness. I know this from experience—a “buddy check” in a time of crisis once saved my life.
Safe gun storage is how we can prevent “family fire,” a term for all injuries and deaths that results from improperly stored or misused guns found in the home. You can visit http://www.EndFamilyFire.org for more resources and safe storage tips. And if you or anyone you know is in an immediate crisis, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-8255 or text HOME to 741741.
I’m looking forward to answering any questions you may have about supporting veteran mental health and safe gun storage – ask me anything!
AMA ENDED: Thanks for joining my AMA. If you missed it, you can still check out the discussion below!
This is why continual conversations about guns and gun safety are so important. Waiting until someone is in crisis is often too late.
It is often hard for people to talk about guns - knowing this, we need to be sensitive to how difficult the conversation is. One tip is to bring it up in conversations when you are talking about other more light hearted topics. Make it seem like it is natural to have the conversation. This may diffuse some of the tension.
Also, it is helpful to frame the conversation as storing your guns securely in order to protect others. This takes some of the stigma around mental health crises out of the conversation. Our End Family Fire messaging research confirms this - when people feel like they are protecting others they are more likely to act in ways that will ultimately protect themselves.
Firearm safety and storage is a topic for all gun owners, not just Veteran owners. Number one defense is prevention of course. Suicide prevention must recognize and affirm the value, dignity, and importance of each person.
How does your 'safe gun storage' turn into dignity, and respect in order to prevent this from happening?
Safe storage respects the personal dignity of firearm owners while acknowledging the importance of the safety conversations we need to have with our loved ones depending on their ages and stages - whether it’s an elderly family member with memory issues, or a young adult going through a tough time, we can balance safety concerns with respect for individuals.
Focusing on safe storage, rather than just removal of firearms, allows individuals to keep their identity as well. Many people see gun ownership as a key part of who they are - whether a veteran, a hunter, an avid sports shooter, or someone wanting self-protection. Leaning into safe storage is a means by which this identity is maintained and safety is promoted.
We know that putting any barrier between an individual and a gun in a time of crisis - even a safe they know the combination to - reduces the likelihood of death. Safe storage is the best means of respecting both gun ownership and ensuring safety.
Follow up question: What do you think of bio-metric handgun safes?
They are among some of the best and most secure, particularly if you have loved ones in the home you are worried about gaining access to the gun.
Thanks for your input on that. My personal preference are simplex safes. How is the bio-metric safe, the most secure?
Everyone should choose the storage solution that is best for their needs. Biometrics are secure because they rely on fingerprints that are not easily replicated by others. The most important thing is that every gun is stored safely and securely.
My uncle's family lived in fear of him for years when we were kids as a returned HK PoW in Canada.
What's the first step? How do we recognize the problem?
This is an important question. Having hard conversations with your loved ones is often scary but it is so necessary. If you are uncomfortable having them, sometimes asking another veteran to be present or even start the conversation is helpful. We know that veterans have a unique relationship with guns - and starting the conversation is often best done by someone who shares that relationship.
Why not just limit who is able to have guns?
It is very hard to make a clear policy on this. Most people who experience a suicidal crisis don’t have a history of action that could be deemed as disqualifying for gun ownership. Anyone can experience a suicidal crisis. We need to make having the conversations about gun access during these crises more common so that we can save lives. Engaging in conversations is the key - whether with a family member, friend, or care taker. We need to also be aware of how those close to us are doing so we can have the hard conversations when loved ones are in crisis and at risk of suicide, which can vary according to life circumstances and stages
In regards to safe gun storage - I worry that sometimes people with suicidal thoughts may have hidden guns that people don't know about and use that gun to commit suicide. This recently happened to a family friend. They thought all the guns in the house were stored properly because her husband did battle with depression. He had hidden one gun that no one knew about and ended up using that gun to take his life. A very sad and tragic story. Do you have any advice on how to prevent that and have conversations around this?
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