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October 6, 2020

Mental Health and Firearm Ownership


By Joe Bartozzi

The firearm industry wants to have a brave conversation. It’s not comfortable, but it’s a life-saving discussion.

Suicide is a very real issue and the firearm industry is taking it seriously. We offer Real Solutions® and firearm manufacturers, distributors, retailers and ranges are doing their part to prevent a tragedy.

When an individual seeks to purchase a new firearm through a federally licensed retailer, they must pass a background check. This system is called the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) and is run by the FBI. The NSSF, the firearm industry trade association, has had a longstanding position that the NICS system is only as good as the records submitted to it. That’s why NSSF championed the Fix NICS Act. The Fix NICS Act was signed by President Donald Trump in March 2018 and has since been hailed by the Department of Justice as a success.

The industry, though, has been working to improve background checks for some time. NSSF’s FixNICS® initiative was initially launched in 2013.  Through the end of August of 2020, the number of disqualifying mental health records submitted to NICS increased by 262 percent to about 6 million, up from about 1.7 million, in December 2012. This NSSF-backed legislation has provided the means to collect more reliable and accurate information for the NICS system, which contributes to preventing disqualified or prohibited people from gaining access to firearms.

Mental Illness Awareness Week

Mental Illness Awareness Week started Oct. 4. Many groups across the nation are bringing people and resources together to try to shake the stigma of discussing this very important topic. Too often, individuals who are suffering from mental illness or a short-term crisis feel alone and without support. The NSSF prioritizes mental health and has partnered with the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention to bring awareness and reduce suicides in the United States. The collaboration between the two groups started because the industry recognized that about half of suicides in the United States are by firearm. As the nation’s largest suicide prevention organization, AFSP raises awareness, provides resources, educates the public, and has chapters in every state. The NSSF promotes and values these programs that are designed to keep firearms out of the hands who shouldn’t have them. That includes those who might be suffering a mental health crisis as well as prohibited individuals and unsupervised children.

Taking Action

The NSSF and AFSP are working together to provide suicide prevention education to retailers, range owners and firearm owners. The goal is to help them recognize signs of suicide risk. The industry is also encouraging safe firearm storage, providing the means to securely store firearms when not in use, and educating the public about storage options so that firearms are not accessible by those at risk of self-harm or harm of others.

The industry strongly encourages anyone who might be concerned that a friend or family member may have thoughts of suicide to take advantage of the AFSP’s #RealConvo about mental health. Similarly, anyone who feels the need to talk to someone needs to know that there are training materials on how to reach out. Friends, family and fellow firearm owners are encouraged to have these discussions and urge someone in crisis to store their firearms safely and securely, locked and unloaded until the distress is resolved. The AFSP’s data shows that temporarily separating someone at risk for suicide from their firearm can significantly increase their chances of survival.

You may also be interested in:

NSSF, Project ChildSafe Support Suicide Prevention Month with Resources for All Gun Owners