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Study Shows “Red-Flag” Laws Reduce Gun Suicides

When enforcement of Connecticut's "red-flag" law increased, firearm suicides dropped by 13.7 percent. (Brett_Hondow/Pixabay)
When enforcement of Connecticut's "red-flag" law increased, firearm suicides dropped by 13.7 percent. (Brett_Hondow/Pixabay)
June 6, 2018

BOSTON - With the state Senate poised to take up a bill to allow removal of firearms from people considered a danger to themselves and others, new research shows such laws reduce suicides.

The so-called "Red Flag" bill would allow a relative or someone with close ties to a legal gun owner to petition the court for a 12-month extreme-risk protection if the person is showing signs of dangerous or unstable behavior. The study, conducted by Aaron Kivisto, an assistant professor of clinical psychology at the University of Indianapolis, found that in the 10 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 might be - maybe somebody is laid off from work, starts drinking, whatever it might be - until the risk is reduced," he said, "and large numbers of these folks are getting their firearms back after this seizure period ends."

Critics have said red-flag laws can impinge on Second Amendment rights. However, according to The Brady Campaign, a gun-control organization, research shows nearly half of mass shooters exhibit warning signs or concerning behavior prior to their crimes.

Connecticut passed the first red-flag law in 1999. At first, it was rarely enforced and firearm suicides fell by less than 2 percent. After the 2007 Virginia Tech massacre when enforcement increased, Kivisto said, firearm suicides declined 13.7 percent.

"The question was: Would we see a corresponding increase in suicides with other means? We were pleased to see that we didn't," he said, "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 said 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 said, "and so, to see that these laws are, to some extent, capable of obtaining bipartisan support and the intended outcomes is a promising thing."

A study now in progress will examine the impact of red-flag laws on murder rates.

The study is online at psychiatryonline.org, and the bill text is at malegislature.gov.

Andrea Sears, Public News Service - MA