Red-flag gun laws, which allow for the temporary removal of guns from individuals at high risk of harming themselves or others, have broad public backing but haven’t yet gained national traction. That could change now that bipartisan support is mounting in Congress for the Extreme Risk Protection Order and Violence Prevention Act. Introduced by Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and colleagues earlier this year, the legislation would not create a federal red-flag law but would instead give states incentives to adopt their own by providing grants for implementation. If approved, the bill will surely prevent deaths — including those from suicide — though its future is far from certain.

In an era when many have grown accustomed to mass shootings with no subsequent government response, Rubio’s proposal is a welcome attempt to help curb the terror engulfing our nation. Even the NRA has changed its long-standing opposition to red-flag gun laws, as long as they allow for adequate due process, which Rubio’s bill does provide. Opponents have voiced concern about the potential overreach or abuse of such laws. In states that already have them, only 0.02% to 0.04% of gun owners have been affected, demonstrating that these fears are unfounded. Still, to address them, Rubio’s bill requires that states make false reporting a felony.

While mass shootings may have motivated Rubio to introduce the legislation, its potential benefits go far beyond their realm. Although such shootings are increasing in frequency and deadliness, they thankfully remain rare. In 2018, they claimed the lives of 373 people, with 313 deaths so far this year. In contrast, more than 47,000 Americans died from suicide, and 1.4 million attempted it in 2017, the last year for which complete data are available. Suicide is our country’s 10th leading cause of death, and its frequency is increasing. Americans are 2 1/2 times more likely to take their own lives than to be murdered.

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Any death is tragic, but suicide is particularly so because it is often impulsive. Most people who attempt suicide and survive regret making the attempt, and 70% never try again. Remarkably, firearms are used in only 6% of suicide attempts but cause more than half of all suicide deaths. Due to their destructive power, approximately 85% of suicide attempts involving firearms end in death. Their involvement in suicide attempts is also rising.

Red-flag gun laws have been shown to reduce firearm suicide rates, with one suicide averted for every 10 to 20 gun removals.

I grew up on a farm and am a gun owner myself, so I understand the importance of the right to own firearms, especially in rural America. But unlike most gun owners, my work as a psychiatrist has repeatedly brought me face to face with patients who have endured self-inflicted gunshot wounds and lived to regret them. I don’t, of course, see the many others who succumb to their injuries. But I don’t need to — my encounters with survivors have already made it impossible for me to close my eyes to the intrinsic link between guns and our suicide epidemic.

I often treat patients who have been hospitalized because they are suicidal or have survived a suicide attempt. They are usually stabilized with therapy and medications and discharged back into their communities within a week. But before that happens, I must figure out what to do when such individuals have one or more guns at home, since the rate of suicide following discharge is 30 times higher than in the general population.

It’s incredible to me that when a recently suicidal patient is cooperating with treatment, is not threatening to harm others, and is not legally committed — which covers the vast majority of patients — there is no mechanism in most states for a mental health provider to petition authorities to have their guns temporarily removed. The only option for providers when discharging these patients is to ask family members to take away their guns and encourage them to inform local police about the situation.

Once the patient is discharged, his or her family members are free to give back firearms whenever they decide the time is right. Sadly, many cave to pressure from the patient and return guns too soon, leading to suicides that could have been prevented.

With just one much-needed tweak, Rubio’s red-flag gun law could provide a long-needed fix to this serious problem. As currently written, states would allow only family members and law enforcement officers to petition a court for gun removal in order to receive federal funding. Although courts could mandate mental health evaluations, mental health providers are conspicuously absent as petitioners, despite the fact that we treat many patients who are estranged from family and unknown to law enforcement. Allowing mental health providers to generate such petitions would be a huge addition.

And while families might hesitate to submit a petition because they don’t want to anger their loved one, mental health providers would face no such emotional obstacle. If this bill helps states allow us to breach confidentiality and petition a court to remove guns from suicidal patients, many more lives could be saved. The longer that guns can be removed the better, since approximately 50% of post-discharge suicides occur within six months of discharge.

While red-flag gun laws might prevent some mass shootings, they would spare many more lives from suicide. That impact would be greatly magnified if mental health providers were allowed to play a more active role in our nation’s safety. Don’t leave us out if you want effective, common-sense gun control.

Brian Barnett, M.D., is an addiction psychiatrist at Cleveland Clinic’s Lutheran Hospital.

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  • no evidence it will stop suicides that is some bad joke. please try to use some facts. banging down peoples doors on an unsubstantiated complaint from some third party person is very dangerous . it has already cost 1 man his life in Maryland on a complaint from an angry relative. this puts citizens and the police in very dangerous interactions…..

  • Fixed this for you:
    In THE LIMITED TIME THAT states that have HAD them, ALREADY 0.02% to 0.04% of gun owners have been affected, demonstrating that these fears are VERY WELL founded.

  • How about this- if you are afraid that you will be a suicide risk one day, put yourself on a voluntary red flag list and we will all honor it. Leave everyone else alone.

  • I understand that society has an interest in preventing. Urder. However, whose business is it if you want to commit suicide!

  • Current red flag laws allow a crotchety aunt to complain about a blustery nephew and state police will confiscate his firearms. It’s precisely the power wielded by gauleiters serving the Third Reich. These laws empower government to repress people because it suspects they might do something nefarious or stupid.

    Seems if one is believed to be dangerous, the state would be better served to arrest the person and leave his property for natural heirs. Last I heard, red flag or Extreme Risk Protection Order (ERPO) laws are the only untenable positions taken by President Trump.

    They’re unpopular because most judges aren’t qualified to determine one’s mental health and property is taken before the accused is indicted. That said, politicians who support this notion will regret the day they ever heard of red flag laws. Their legacies will carry a Supreme Court scolding and perhaps be a landmark of their careers. But not to worry. Red Flag laws will be overturned soon enough.

    The Supreme Court isn’t about to jeopardize its own reputation by reducing the ability of private citizens to defend themselves. It’s especially important because currently, half the nation’s murders occur in only 63 counties while the other half are spread across the other 3,081 counties. Said another way, 15 percent had one murder and 54 percent of the nation’s counties had no murders at all.

    These laws were created to dilute the power licensed to the psychiatric community and transfer it to unqualified persons more obedient to democrats, e.g., local judges and disgruntled aunts. These confiscation laws are still being trumpeted by democrats because their usual gun control arguments have been lopsided, illogical losers.

    Democrats and weak minded Republicans are victims of the bum’s rush. They’ve been hoodwinked by Bloomberg’s rhetoric and haven’t read his 2018 data. It reveals gun homicides declined seven percent, firearm injuries declined 10 percent, fatal child shootings (under 18) declined 12 percent and unintentional shootings plummeted 21 percent. Generally, since 1991, the murder rate has fallen by 45 percent and the overall violent crime rate has fallen by 48 percent.

    Additionally, shooting incidents involving students have been declining since the ’90s. During that time, citizens were buying a record number of firearms. In 2018, more than 26 million firearms were purchased, a number exceeded only by 27.5 million in 2016 when purchasers were mortified that Hillary might be elected.

    Historically, in 2004, gun murders, already declining, continued to fall after the “assault weapon ban” expired. We noted in 2017, handgun homicides fell to 7,032 almost a historic low. Notably deaths by rifles, including the erroneously labeled “military style, assault weapon” AR-15, dropped to 403.

    Further, a December 2018 Gallup Poll revealed that gun control is last on a list of what Americans cite as the most important problem facing the U.S. Seems government is the most important problem and immigration is second most important. Obviously, the democrats are pushing a solution in search of a problem.

    Unarguably, our government cannot be trusted with the 2nd Amendment, just as our founders warned us. The primary problem with this nationwide hysteria to enforce red flag laws is none are crafted with sufficient protections for the accused. Apparently, we’ve been deluding ourselves that the U.S. judiciary would rather let ten guilty parties go free than convict one innocent person.

    Additionally, these laws generally place enormous responsibility and pressure on police officers and judges to dispense pretrial punishment, just in case an owner might be mentally afflicted. This kind of punishment is overly severe to be based on amateur opinions afforded by all the red flag laws enacted thus far. I have no doubt that the Supreme Court will strike these laws down but in the meantime, many firearms owners will suffer needlessly. Lawsuits are sure to follow.

    Since we’re dealing with mentally troubled persons, any law should include diagnoses by licensed psychiatrists, one chosen from each side, before taking personal property and an indictment. Doubtlessly, we all know of judges and law officers who are far from qualified for such professional undertakings. I also doubt that they’d volunteer to diagnose mental illness if their jobs depended on doing it correctly.

    This movement makes it clear that democrats want control without responsibility. I used to wonder why democrats saturate media outlets with soothing pleas for conversation instead of acting on their clear and ultimate goal of total confiscation. I assumed they stopped short of the extreme because they know firearms owners won’t tolerate confiscation without unimaginable fury.

    Passage of this act will stimulate the already confused democrats to report owners and at least temporarily terminate their 2nd Amendment rights. And firearms owners will never again trust their government. But this law and the effects on peaceable, lawful owners is part of a common democrat flimflam. Eventually they’ll again get around to universal background checks that are impossible to manage without universal registration.

    They need a universal firearm registry because it fundamentally transforms 140 million owners into dependents. Once they know who the owners are, they’ll choose which of them are allowed to be licensed. It’s the consummate entitlement. The democrat party cannot survive without more than half the nation being dependent on the government. Democrats trade entitlements for votes. It’s the heart of their strategy.

    Due process demands reports from two psychiatrists, one from each side, legal representation, arraignment, indictment and trial by jury. Democrats screech in the streets if denied a full measure of due process but close their eyes on the subject of self-defense by firearm. These laws open the doors to scorned partners, angry neighbors, children seeking a parent’s wealth and arrogant judges.

    The natural next step for any Nazified government was to codify empowerment of mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, sons, daughters, uncles, aunts, cousins, friends, neighbors, judges, police officers, boyfriends, girlfriends, classmates, teachers, faculty, employers, co-workers and everyone except those actually qualified to judge mental competence. We’ll see an irrational rush to besmirch owners very much like the frenzied feeding during the Kavanaugh confirmation.

    And you can count on democrats finding new restrictions that violate due process. Soon they’ll want to choose an upper age limit for people to be “allowed by the government” to keep and bear arms as guaranteed by the 2nd Amendment. It makes me wonder about the motive for Red Flag ERPO laws.

  • The NRA is fed richly by for-profit unscrupulous gun makers. The whole shebang is criminal and should be banned / terminated. If the US would have half-decent gun ownership laws and restrictions, there would not be that many murders and suicides by fire-arms as currently is the case. And this calls itself a civilized nation, even “the greatest nation in the world”? All with the excuse of “personal freedom’. OK, go ahead, kill yourselves all off.

    • Recall that resistance to confiscation laws in Connecticut, New York and Australia reached about 80 percent. I’d guess you’re a government official in Kenya, the latest place to demonstrate resistance to the grip of gun laws. With only a week remaining, noncompliance in Kenya has stabilized at about 98.8 percent. That must smart like everything.

      But recall the winner in this race is New Zealand where noncompliance is about 99.7 percent. National socialist democrats want US citizens to believe making the U.S. safer for criminals will make it safer for their victims. Ask yourself Chris, do you believe being disarmed makes you safer? Are you a political leader who would disarm his people while howling about the peril they face?

    • no evidence it will stop suicides that is some bad joke. please try to use some facts. banging down peoples doors on an unsubstantiated complaint from some third party person is very dangerous . it has already cost 1 man his life in Maryland on a complaint from an angry relative. this puts citizens and the police in very dangerous interactions…..

    • chris m so how come many restricted firearms countries have higher rates of suicides…? it is not the gun……..fool

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