Soapbox

California can prevent suicides with a voluntary no-buy list for guns

Family and friends gather outside the scene of a murder-suicide in Pomona in May 2014.  A 28-year-old man shot and killed three members of a Southern California family before turning the gun on himself, authorities said.
Family and friends gather outside the scene of a murder-suicide in Pomona in May 2014. A 28-year-old man shot and killed three members of a Southern California family before turning the gun on himself, authorities said. The Inland Valley Daily Bulletin

California has a firearm suicide problem. Nearly 1,600 residents killed themselves with guns in 2016, and the gun suicide rate is rising at both the state and national levels.

Suicide is the most common type of gun violence in the U.S. — on average more than 60 deaths a day, more than were killed in Las Vegas, the deadliest mass shooting in American history. Six out of ten gun deaths are suicides, and firearms account for about half of all suicides.

Because individuals who use guns to attempt suicide almost never survive, limiting their access to firearms saves lives. California has an opportunity to do so.

Fredrick Vars.jpg
Fredrick Vars

Assembly Bill 1927 would allow at-risk individuals to put themselves on a voluntary no-buy list, which would prevent them from purchasing guns from a licensed dealer. The bill was approved by the Assembly on Wednesday and is now in the state Senate.

Opinion

Often, people at risk of suicide are well aware of their vulnerability, especially if they have chronic mental illness. Research shows that suicide is almost always an impulsive act during acute distress. A no-buy list, which recently passed in Washington state, allows suicidal crises to pass without a gun nearby. Once the crisis passes, individuals can take themselves off the list.

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Bryan Barks

There is a common misconception that suicidal individuals will simply find another way if guns are not available. Most do not try another method and if they do, other methods are far less lethal.

In the landmark Heller case, the late Justice Antonin Scalia wrote that "handguns are the most popular weapon chosen by Americans for self-defense in the home." If the Second Amendment protects the right to self defense, people at risk of suicide should be able to defend themselves against suicide.

As a law professor who has researched this policy and a gun violence prevention advocate who lives with mental illness, we are confident that AB 1927 would save lives. Legislators on both sides of the aisle should take the opportunity to support this novel and empowering concept.

Fredrick Vars is a professor at the University of Alabama School of Law and can be contacted at fvars@law.ua.edu. Bryan Barks is executive editor at the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence and can be contacted at bbarks@csgv.org.
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