Can ‘Red Flag’ Gun Laws Actually Reduce Suicides?

Of the 96 gun deaths that occur every day in the United States, two-thirds are suicides. But unfortunately, in the conversation about a largely preventable public health epidemic, the topic of suicide doesn’t get much airtime.

New research from Connecticut and Indiana shows that there’s a really easy tool for limiting the needlessly high rate of†suicide by gun, known as a “red flag law.”

As methods of suicide go, guns aren’t necessarily the first choice for many people who want to end their lives, but they are the most reliable. That’s why guns account for a relatively low percentage of methods used in suicide attempts, but a very high proportion of methods that are successful.

Guns, as we’ve been reminded over and over again, are designed to kill people extremely efficiently, and that’s why they’re so dangerous for suicidal people to access.

People who are struggling with feelings of self-harm and suicide don’t need ready access to an extremely lethal device. Research suggests that waiting periods, more extensive†permitting processes†and gun storage laws can radically reduce gun suicides — simply by making it hard for someone to quickly grab a gun.

But what happens when someone already has guns, as well as the keys to the gun safe?

In states with red flag laws, when law enforcement or families recognize the warning signs of dangerous behavior, they can seek a†court order to temporarily restrict someone’s access to firearms. Guns will be confiscated under the court order, while the target can appeal the decision to the court. A total suspension of gun ownership isn’t possible under a red flag law.

Proponents often tout the ability of such laws to†prevent mass shootings, though claims that shooters would have been eligible for confiscation orders are somewhat debatable.

What isn’t†up for debate, though, is the very real and immediate health effect of putting such laws in action. Connecticut and Indiana have both had red flag laws on the books for over a decade — and that provides an ideal opportunity to study before-and-after effects,†as well as†to compare them with similar states.

Researchers found that suicides by gun dropped dramatically in both states — 7.5 percent in Indiana and nearly 14 percent in Connecticut — when these laws were enacted and enforced.

So far, at least†ten states have red flag laws†– formally known as Gun Violence†Restraining Orders or Extreme Risk Protection Orders — and more are considering them. Critics claim these laws infringe on Second Amendment rights, but†supporters insist they save lives in the least restrictive way possible –†preserving the†absolute rights of†individuals with restraining orders, while intervening in immediate crisis.

Research like this highlights the value of such laws — in addition to†showcasing the importance of fully funding gun violence research — to learn more about evidence-based methods for reducing the incidence of gun violence in the United States.

Red flag laws are specifically designed for reporting people who may be a danger to themselves or others so law enforcement can temporarily restrict their access to firearms. But while these laws are specifically designed to address people in mental health crisis, you shouldn’t take this is an indication that mental illness causes gun violence.

Mentally ill people are statistically less dangerous, and when they do pose a safety risk, it is usually to themselves; people dealing with depression, psychosis, anxiety and other mental health issues may develop suicidal ideation and harm themselves.

And not everyone who commits or attempts suicide displays symptoms of mental illness beforehand. Sometimes suicidal ideation appears very abruptly and with no warning, or in someone who has concealed signs of mental illness due to shame and stigma.

You should also be aware that while calling law enforcement for a mentally ill person in crisis may seem like the best way to get them help quickly, encounters between law enforcement and suicidal people often go badly — especially when police have been advised that someone has access to a gun. Mentally ill people are 16 times as likely to be shot by police, especially if they are black or Latinx. In some communities, mental health crisis teams provide rapid response services to help people†who need emergency treatment.

If you or someone you know is struggling with thoughts of suicide, you aren’t alone. Please reach out to the Suicide Prevention Lifeline for resources and support.†

Photo Credit: Tristan Loper/Flickr

18 comments

Winn A
Winn A2 months ago

noted

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Lesa DiIorio
Lesa D2 months ago

thank you s.e. ...

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Lisa M
Lisa M2 months ago

Noted.

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Lisa M
Lisa M2 months ago

Noted.

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Chad Anderson
Chad Anderson2 months ago

Thank you.

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Anne Moran
Anne M2 months ago

If someone want to commit suicide,, they will do it, with,, or without a gun..

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Alea C
Alea C2 months ago

Sounds good to me.

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Cathy B
Cathy B2 months ago

Thank you.

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Bill E
Bill Eagle2 months ago

Up until reading this article, I did not know what a "Red Flag" gun law was.
I now know and I believe that they may save lives and that might be a good thing for us all.

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Cindy S
Cindy Smith2 months ago

not really

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