Red Flag Laws and Firearm Suicide Prevention

Bottom Line: When a person is in crisis and considering suicide, family members and law enforcement officers are often the first to see the warning signs. Red Flag Laws empower those who recognize these warning signs to take action to prevent people in crisis from accessing firearms. These laws create a new court order – often called Extreme Risk Protection Order or “ERPO” – that temporarily restricts a person’s access to guns if the court finds that they pose a significant risk of using them to harm themselves or others.

 

Firearms are an especially lethal means of self-harm. Temporarily preventing a person in crisis from accessing firearms can mean the difference between life and death.

  • Claiming the lives of nearly 22,000 Americans every year, including over 950 children and teens,Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. National Centers for Injury Prevention and Control, Web-based Injury Statistics Query and Reporting System (WISQARS). A yearly average was developed using five years of most recent available data: 2012-2016. Children and teens defined as 0 to 19. firearm suicide is a significant public health crisis in the U.S.Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. National Centers for Injury Prevention and Control, Web-based Injury Statistics Query and Reporting System (WISQARS). A yearly average was developed using five years of most recent available data: 2012-2016. Nearly two-thirds of all gun deaths in the U.S. are suicides: an average of 59 deaths a day.Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. National Centers for Injury Prevention and Control, Web-based Injury Statistics Query and Reporting System (WISQARS). Firearm suicide to total suicide ratio and daily average developed using five years of most recent available data: 2012-2016.
  • A meta-analysis of 14 different scientific studies concluded that having access to a firearm triples one’s risk of death by suicide. This elevated risk applies not only to the gun owner, but everyone in the household.Anglemyer A, Horvath T, Rutherford G. The accessibility of firearms and risk for suicide and homicide victimization among household members: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Annals of Internal Medicine. 2014; 160: 101–110.
  • Among commonly used methods of self-harm, firearms are by far the most lethal, with a fatality rate of approximately 85 percent.Miller M, Azrael D, Barber C. Suicide mortality in the United States: The importance of attending to method in understanding population-level disparities in the burden of suicide. Annual Review of Public Health. 2012; 33: 393-408. Conversely, death occurs in less than 5 percent of cases where people attempt suicide using other methods,Id. and the vast majority of all those who survive do not go on to die by suicide.Owens D, Horrocks J, House A. Fatal and non-fatal repetition of self-harm: Systematic review. British Journal of Psychiatry. 2002; 181: 193-199. While firearms are used in less than 6 percent of suicide attempts, over half of suicide deaths are with firearms.Miller M, Azrael D, Barber C. Suicide mortality in the United States: The importance of attending to method in understanding population-level disparities in the burden of suicide. Annual Review of Public Health. 2012; 33: 393-408.

Red Flag Laws reduce the risk of firearm suicide by temporarily removing guns from dangerous situations.

  • When a person is in crisis, loved ones and law enforcement are often the first to see the warning signs. Red Flag Laws empower those who recognize signs of danger to petition for a court order that temporarily removes a person’s access to guns if they are likely to use them to harm themselves or others.
  • Under current federal law, a person is only barred from having guns if they fall into one of several categories of prohibited persons – such as those who have been convicted of certain crimes, adjudicated as mentally ill or committed to a psychiatric hospital, or who are subject to a domestic violence restraining order.18 U.S.C. § 922(d), (g).
  • A person in crisis may display warning signs that they’re considering suicide. But unless that person has been involuntarily committed, convicted of a serious crime, or is otherwise prohibited under current law, they would still be able to buy and possess guns legally. Red Flag Laws provide those who recognize warning signs a way to take action to prevent access to firearms in these high-risk cases.
  • Those who request an ERPO must present evidence to a judge demonstrating the risk of harm a person poses by having access to firearms. If the judge finds the person poses a significant danger of injuring themselves or others with a firearm, the judge can issue an ERPO, prohibiting the subject of the order from purchasing and possessing guns and requiring them to turn in their guns while the order remains in effect. Emergency orders can be issued before a hearing is held if necessary to prevent imminent harm. These orders generally last between seven and 21 days. Final orders, which can only be issued after a full hearing, generally last up to one year.

Red Flag Laws have been shown to help prevent firearm suicides, and states across the country are embracing this life-saving policy.

  • Following Connecticut’s increased enforcement of its Red Flag Law,See; Conn. Gen. Stat. § 29-38c. the law was associated with a 14 percent reduction in the state’s firearm suicide rate.Kivisto AJ, Phalen PL. Effects of risk-based firearm seizure laws in Connecticut and Indiana on suicide rates, 1981-2015. Psychiatric Services. 2018; 69(8): 855-862. Another study in Connecticut found that one suicide was averted for approximately every 11 gun removals carried out under the law.Swanson JW, Norko M, Lin H, et al. Implementation and effectiveness of Connecticut's risk-based gun removal law: Does it prevent suicides? Law and Contemporary Problems. 2017; 80: 179-208.
  • In Indiana, in the ten years after the state passed its Red Flag Law in 2005,Ind. Code § 35-47-14-1, et seq. the state’s firearm suicide rate decreased by 7.5 percent.Kivisto AJ, Phalen PL. Effects of risk-based firearm seizure laws in Connecticut and Indiana on suicide rates, 1981-2015. Psychiatric Services. 2018; 69(8): 855-862.
  • In response to the tragic mass shooting in Isla Vista, California enacted its Red Flag Law in 2014. Washington State created a Red Flag Law by ballot initiative in 2016, followed by the passage of Oregon’s law in 2017. This life-saving policy has since expanded rapidly as states recognize that these laws can help prevent suicide and other gun violence tragedies.See 2017 OR S 719; Wash. Rev. Code § 7.94.010, et seq.; Cal. Penal Code §§ 18125, 18150, 18175.
  • In 2018 alone, eight additional states passed Red Flag Laws, more than doubling the number of laws nationally.DE, FL, IL, MD, MA, NJ, RI, VT As of October 2018, there are 13 states with Red Flag Laws on the books.CA, CT, DE, FL, IL, IN, MD, MA, NJ, OR, RI, VT, WA

 

If you or someone you know is in crisis, please contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, a national network of local crisis centers that provides free and confidential emotional support to people in suicidal crisis or emotional distress 24/7. 1-800-273-TALK (8255) suicidepreventionlifeline.org

You may also contact the Crisis Text Line, which provides trained crisis counseling services over text 24/7. Text HOME to 741741 for free from anywhere in the U.S. crisistextline.org