Suicide prevention guide

- for Australian firearm owners.

Are you worried about a mate? Do they own firearms? Don't wait. It's time to step up and ask the tough questions!

Look, I get it. It takes a lot of courage to approach a friend and ask about their mental health. You may be concerned about upsetting this person, or the possibly of it ruining your relationship with them, but consider this – if you aren’t able to ask the tough questions, then who is?

To help with your approach, I’ve put together this short guide. It includes everything that you need to know, such as; how to approach the conversation, advice on providing help and establishing a support network, and most importantly – how to reduce the risk of suicide with a firearm.

Before attempting to utilise this guide it’s important to understand that your success will be 100% dependant upon your friends willingness to accept help. The use of guilt, forceful language, or other personal demands will not improve their situation. In fact, the opposite is true. It may cause the person to feel more socially isolated, thereby increasing the risk of harm to themselves, or others.

Remember, this process is not about you, and your thoughts on suicide or self-harm. It’s all about your friend. Do your best to remain calm and non-judgemental at all times, and treat the person with the respect and care they deserve.

Finally, if you take away just one thing from this guide, it should be this – If you witness any ‘red flags’ or strange behaviours from your friends, reach out to them and don’t be afraid to have THAT conversation. It could save a friend’s life!

– Luke, Oz Fish and Game.

What is a mental health crisis?

A mental health crisis is defined as a short-term incident where a person experiences intense feelings of personal distress. This may manifest itself as obvious changes in behaviour, such as; aggression, anxiety, or depression. Or it may be identified by more subtle changes, like a decline in personal hygiene or withdrawal from social circles. Despite common misconceptions, a mental health crisis may occur in ANYONE – not just those with a diagnosed mental health condition, or those who have suffered from a catastrophic life event.

In short, the individual’s mind is caught in a temporary state of chaos. These feelings are overwhelming, and will often impair their ability to make rational decisions. This can lead to impulsive and unpredictable behaviours. While it’s not fair to suggest that people in this state are always a direct threat to themselves or others, it would be foolish to pretend that it does not occur.

On average, 8.6 Australians die from suicide every day. In 2021, this accounted for 3144 lives lost. It's now estimated that 40% of the Australian population have personally known someone who has taken their own life. [1]

Suicide has become an epidemic in our country. Yet as licenced firearm owners, we are not able to access even the most basic support services without the risk of losing our licences. It’s an impossible situation to be faced with. For most of us, it’s more than just a hobby. To some, an antique rifle may represent the sacrifice and dedication of their forefathers throughout past wars. To others, that well worn shotgun may represent part of their culture. The multi-generational participation in wetlands management and native waterfowl hunting. There are countless other examples… 

No matter what it means to the individual, the use of firearms underpins the core elements of their personal identity, and they don’t want to lose them.

It takes less than one second and 6 pounds of pressure to pull the trigger. When you're desperate for an escape from the chaos, a firearm will always seem like the most attractive option.

Contrary to ‘popular’ belief, the use of a legally obtained firearm in an attempt at self harm is not influenced by our peers or ‘toxic gun culture’. It’s a decision based upon the efficiency and effectiveness of the tools available.

Half of survivors say they thought about suicide for 10 minutes or less, before making the attempt...[2]

Research suggests that if you can create distance between a person experiencing a mental health crisis and their chosen method of suicide, you will increase that person’s chance of survival. This guide is based upon that principal.

No more permanent solutions for temporary life problems...

Suicide prevention is a battle worth fighting. Support Oz Fish and Game and share this guide among your friends and loved ones. Let’s attempt to eliminate firearms-related suicides throughout Australia, using ‘KAOS’ – our suicide prevention strategy which is outlined below.

Add download link to pdf.

'KAOS' - Suicide prevention strategy

After the guide ends...

So you’ve successfully worked your way through the guide, and now your friend’s mental health has started to improve. That’s great news! So what happens next? 

Unfortunately, we need to start with a healthy dose of reality. The path towards mental resilience is not a straight line, nor is it a light switch they can just click one day, and have it stay on. Past issues may resurface, and your friend’s mental health could be suffer as a result. That’s why it’s important that your friend remains focused on their own mental wellbeing, while maintaining a strong connection to their support network.

When is it safe to return firearms?

As you friend’s mental health starts to improve, you will question whether it’s time to return their firearms, or relax some of the additional safety measures. So, how do you make the decision? Due to the restrictions placed upon us by our national firearms legislation, I’ll have to address the issue from two different perspectives – Your friend’s best interests and our legal requirements.

Your friend’s best interests

The truth is there’s no way to be certain when your friend is “well enough” to have their firearms returned. That’s because suicide intervention (and recovery) is an imperfect process. Asking questions and assessing patterns of behaviour may help, but at the end of the day you need to make a judgement call. Always trust your gut feeling.

Legal requirements

Unfortunately we are not yet in a position where firearms can be legally held for an extended period of time – even if it’s in the best interest of the individual licence holder. That means firearms can only be stored under the guise of being ‘loaned’ to another licence holder, and in some cases, this may have strict rules or time frames attached to it.

Before taking on this responsibility, I recommend you do your own research into the state laws which apply to you. The information provided below should be considered a guide only, as it may not be updated regularly.

Firearms storage laws

Click the table below to view the rules which apply to each state.

Note: This information will be updated as more information becomes available to us.

Prerequisites for firearms storage

In addition to the above, any person tasked with safe storage a firearm must possess the following:

  • A firearms licence, with the appropriate category to match the firearm(s).
  • Safe storage arrangements which comply with state laws.

Date of publication – 13 March, 2023.
Information last updated – 07 August, 2023.