Restricting Access to Lethal Means

Restricting access to the lethal means individuals use to attempt suicide continues to be one of the most successful strategies in preventing suicide.

Steps You Can Take

What is a lethal mean?

A lethal mean refers to a method in which one uses to attempt suicide. The term “lethal” is important because some methods are more harmful or destructive than others. For example, if someone chooses to use a gun to end their life, the act is quick and almost always irreversible. Conversely, other methods like overdoses of pills or inhalation of harmful chemicals allow for more time to reconsider or to be saved during an attempt.

» Medications

Some steps at the policy level have been taken to reduce the risk of medication overdose. Individual pill packets being one of them. However, there are a few steps everyone can take to reduce the risk of an overdose from happening. Those include:

  • Never keep lethal doses of any medication on hand. Work with your doctor and pharmacist to make sure you have a safe dosage in your home.
  • Consider keeping medications locked in a safe place.
  • Properly dispose of medications you no longer need.

» Firearms

  • Keep firearms locked in a safe and ammunition stored in a separate location.
  • Ask a friend or family member to store a firearm for you while you work on becoming healthy again.
  • Check out a local shooting club or local police precinct to see if they have temporary storage options.



“Approximately 90% of attempters who survive a nonfatal attempt will not go on to die by suicide thereafter.”

Research has shown time and again that restricting access to lethal means or “means restriction” can saves lives. By restricting access to firearms and other highly lethal methods the decline in suicide rates by that method and overall suicide rates begin to decline. Restricting access to lethal means does not always lead to fewer deaths, but is one suicide prevention measure that merits further research and more individual-level intervention training to make lethal means less readily available.

The conceptual model below depicts how restricting a suicidal person’s access to lethal means can save lives.

Screenshot 2016-08-16 at 09.17.15

Means Reduction Counseling

In the United States, just over half of all suicides are completed by firearms. Because firearm ownership is high among American households and is likely to remain so, the effort to introduce means reduction is implemented at the individual level by lethal means counseling. Medical professionals, family members, and anyone who comes into contact with a suicidal person should be able to talk with that person about suicidal intent and attempt to make any lethal means temporarily inaccessible.

If you’re interested in learning more about reducing access to lethal means click here for a free online training.