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UI Research Shows Red-Flag Laws Help Prevent Tragedies

Nearly two dozen states are considering risk-based firearm-seizure laws such as Indiana's. (Rod Waddington/Flickr)
Nearly two dozen states are considering risk-based firearm-seizure laws such as Indiana's. (Rod Waddington/Flickr)
June 5, 2018

INDIANAPOLIS – Indiana is one of seven states with a law allowing police to seize firearms from those considered a risk to themselves or others. And new research shows that these so-called "red-flag" laws are working to help prevent tragedies.

According to a study conducted by Aaron Kivisto, an assistant professor of clinical psychology at the University of Indianapolis, in the ten years following enactment of Indiana's risk-based firearm seizure law, firearm suicides decreased 7.5 percent.

"These temporary seizures are working to help people get through whatever these crises may be - maybe somebody is laid off from work, starts drinking - whatever it might be until the risk is reduced," he says. "And large numbers of these folks are getting their firearms back after this seizure period ends."

The study also looked at Connecticut, the first state to pass such a law, and found a 1.6 percent reduction in firearm suicides immediately after its passage in 1999. But Kivisto says rates then fell 13.7 percent following the Virginia Tech massacre in 2007 when Connecticut increased enforcement of the law.

Kivisto notes there was no significant rise in suicides by means other than a firearm during the time period studied.

"The question was: Would we see a corresponding increase in suicide with other means?" he adds. "We were pleased to see that we didn't, but we didn't really have an expectation going in other than knowing that we needed to look at that possibility."

Nearly two dozen states are considering risk-based firearm seizure laws, and Kivisto says the current level of support is fairly unusual across the political spectrum.

"We know this from various political groups endorsing these sorts of laws, from public opinion polling," he notes. "And so to see that these laws are to some extent capable of obtaining political support and the intended outcome is a positive thing."

Some critics say red-flag laws can impinge on civil rights. But gun-control organization The Brady Campaign says research shows nearly half of mass shooters exhibit warning signs or concerning behavior prior to their crimes.

Mary Kuhlman, Public News Service - IN