An Alabama study found that half of those receiving treatment for mental illness, when asked, were in favor of adding themselves to a list of those ineligible to possess firearms.
The three-year study, conducted by University of Alabama School of Law Professor Fredrick Vars, a specialist in mental health law, was published in the October Suicide and Life-Threatening Behavior. Researchers found that 46 percent of mental health patients who participated would elect to put their name at least temporarily on a proposed “Do Not Sell List” for firearms.
Vars said such a proposal, in which people could opt themselves out of their gun rights, could reduce potential suicides while accommodating the Second Amendment.
“This is totally different. This is people deciding for themselves,” Vars said. “It is entirely voluntary. No gun owner is at risk of losing their right to buy a gun. They don’t have to sign up for the program. It is not mandatory.”
The research was conducted at an inpatient psychiatric unit and two outpatient psychiatric clinics at an academic medical center of the University of Alabama, Birmingham. Of the 240 individuals receiving treatment approached, some 200 participated in the survey, of which just under half stated they would add their names to a proposed list. As described to participants, options to remove themselves from the list could be following either a seven-day waiting period or a hearing in front of a judge, with most opting for the waiting list.
Co-authors of the study include mental health professionals: Karen L. Cropsey, associate professor of psychiatry at UAB; Richard Shelton, vice chair of research for the UAB department of psychiatry; and Cheryl B. McCullumsmith, an associate professor University of Cincinnati.
Vars argued that more than half of deaths by firearms in the U.S. are attributed to suicides and that taking guns out the list of options may lead to fewer instances of self-termination, even if those at risk elect to to kill themselves by other means.
“Guns are so much more lethal than alternative methods,” Vars said. “If you attempt with a gun, there is an 80 to 90 percent chance you’ll die. Switching people from a very deadly method to a less deadly method will save a lot of lives.”
Gun rights for those with mental health issues vary from state to state.
Federal definitions of mental illness for the purpose of stripping gun rights away, and deeming one a prohibited firearms possessor, do not include a person in a mental institution simply for observation or by voluntary admission — which covers many at risk for suicide. Further, many states do not report an individual’s mental health history to the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s National Instant Check System.
Earlier this year state courts in New Hampshire rebuffed guidance from Gov. Maggie Hassan and state Attorney General Joseph Foster — both Democrats — to begin forwarding information to the FBI any time a person was found incompetent to stand trial, involuntarily committed to a mental health facility or found not guilty by reason of insanity.
Other states, such as New York which in 2013 passed a new Mental Hygiene Law as part of the SAFE Act gun control package, gun owners have seen their firearms and gun permits confiscated by authorities for seeking such innocuous care as medical treatment for a sleep disorder.
In an instance of gun rights groups working with suicide prevention advocates and the pharmaceutical industry, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee signed legislation into law in April to provide anti-suicide literature to drug stores and gun shops in the state as well as access to suicide prevention training, free gun locks and medication disposal kits.
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