Harm Reduction: Army Lethal Means Safety Toolkit

By Analyse Vazquez, (contractor), Suicide Prevention ProgramFebruary 27, 2024

Firearms are the most common and lethal method for suicide among Soldiers and their dependents. Lethal means safety (LMS) is an evidence-based suicide prevention practice that involves securely storing a suicide method or mean (e.g., firearm, medication, asphyxiation device) to make it less available or difficult to immediately access, therefore less likely to cause harm or death. While there is a significant body of evidence supporting secure storage as an effective way to prevent intentional (e.g., suicide, domestic violence) and accidental (e.g., injury) harm and death, LMS (specifically, firearm safety) continues to be a stigmatized topic and challenging to integrate into Army culture and behavior.

Our own experiences and opinions will primarily inform our rationale for storing personal weapons, and one of DPRR’s goals when developing the LMS Toolkit was to provide additional context and information for Soldiers and their Families to consider when making storage decisions. LMS has not always had the best marketing among the Army community, with efforts being conflated with Second Amendment rights and autonomy. This couldn’t be further from the truth: Army LMS efforts aim to prevent suicide by supporting decisions for safe-storage behaviors:

•        Easier (e.g., accessible storage devices)

•        Normal, or non-stigmatized, similar to wearing a seat belt

•        Universal (e.g., modeled by leadership and reviewed as part of general safety behaviors)

DPRR published the Army’s LMS toolkit in August 2023 to increase LMS knowledge and share LMS resources with Soldiers, leaders, care providers and Family members to support suicide and violence prevention efforts across our community. The toolkit was developed with input from suicide prevention program managers and coordinators, the safety office, behavioral heath, office of the chief of chaplains and command stakeholders. The LMS toolkit includes:

1)     A catalog of evidence-based LMS resources, broken down by role

2)     Conversation guides for discussing safe storage in times of crisis and non-crisis

3)     State maps with off-base firearm storage locations

4)     LMS communication materials for Army commanders and Family members

In fiscal year 2024, DPRR is partnering with the Defense Suicide Prevention Office and Center for Naval Analysis (CNA) to evaluate the dissemination and use of the LMS toolkit. In the spring, CNA researchers will conduct interviews with commanders/unit leadership, behavioral health providers, chaplains, integrated-prevention advisory group professionals, law enforcement, safety personnel and suicide prevention program coordinators. CNA will anonymously summarize interview findings in a report to DPRR at the conclusion of the evaluation. DPRR will use the findings to update the LMS toolkit content and dissemination strategy. Further, feedback may also be applied to related LMS and prevention efforts.

If you are interested in participating in this evaluation, send an email to usarmy.pentagon.hqda-dcs-g-9.list.suicide-prevention@army.mil.

For more prevention and LMS information, check out the DPRR website and LMS microsite.

If you or someone you know is experiencing crisis, including thoughts of self-harm or suicide, call or text 988 to connect with the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline. The lifeline provides 24-hour confidential support to anyone in suicidal crisis or emotional distress. Support is also available via live chat . Para ayuda en español, llame al 988.