By Griffin Swartzell | 21st Space Wing Public Affairs
PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. — June is Gun Violence Awareness Month, and to support the Peterson Air Force Base community, the Veterans Crisis Line has provided complimentary gun locks to the 21st Space Wing Violence Prevention Office. Service members can pick one up for themselves or their households from Michel Cremeans, 21st Space Wing violence prevention integrator, from their first sergeant or from the 21st Space Wing safety office.
“If children are in the home, guns need to be locked up for the kids’ safety, because kids are curious,” says Maj. Judy Cole, 21st Medical Group mental health flight commander.
Tech Sgt. Wade Woods II, 21st Space Wing safety superintendent, said that using a gun lock or gun safe is the surest way to prevent accidental discharge of a firearm. That’s crucial in a home with children, as a firearm tragedy can happen in a fraction of a second.
“It’s not just about you,” says Master Sgt. Dustin Bingham, 21st Comptroller Squadron first sergeant. “It’s about your family, too. Nowadays, gun locks come with most of the rifles or handguns you purchase, but if you’ve had your guns for a while, these locks can be expensive.”
Gun locks are also an effective way of preventing suicide. Conventional logic might suggest that a person determined to complete suicide will find a way, but the numbers don’t support that conclusion. While a person may have suicidal thoughts for a long time, suicide attempts tend to happen on impulse.
According to 21st SW Mental Health, 24% of suicide attempts happen within five minutes of a person making the decision. Another 24% happen between five and 19 minutes of that decision, and 23 percent take place between 20% and one hour afterwards.
“Nearly 77% make the decision to follow through on a suicide within an hour,” says Cole.
Using a gun lock or other barrier to firearm access, even a minor one, gives a person a chance to stop and think about what they’re doing. It’s called “means reduction,” and research suggests that it helps.
“When we’re thinking about means restrictions, sometimes we’ll have the ammo placed differently than where the gun is,” says Cole. “Even then, you’re putting time in place for a support system to wrap around an individual. You’re giving the support system time to potentially intervene.”
Cole is aware that there’s a stigma about mental health care, and a big red lock on a firearm should not look like a big red flag for mental health. That’s why she and Cremeans are working with first sergeants and the safety office at Peterson to distribute the locks and encouraging Airmen to ask for them. Bingham has his own ideas about how to overcome the stigma.
“I want to walk around and hand these out, ask who has a gun and who would like one,” he says.
His logic: if these locks are sitting in his desk, they’re not doing the job they need to do.
“We’re not saying guns are bad,” says Cole, “but we’re saying there are times when people need to not have easy access to weapons, whether they’re a child, or whether they’re an adult that’s in a bad place.”
For more information on gun locks, or if you or a loved one are having thoughts of suicide, contact the Veterans Crisis Line at 1-800-273-8255, send a text to 838255, or visit them online at veteranscrisisline.net. To acquire a gun lock, contact your first sergeant, e-mail Michel Cremeans at firstname.lastname@example.org or call the safety office at 719-556-4392.