Impact of Connecticut’s risk-based civil gun removal law on suicides
A Duke University study concludes that a Connecticut law allowing police to temporarily remove guns from individuals at risk of harming themselves or others has reduced gun suicides.
In 1999, Connecticut became the first state to authorize police to temporarily remove guns from at-risk individuals. Although the law was passed in response to a mass shooting, the study’s analysis of 762 gun-removal cases between 1999 and 2013 showed it has been used most often when an individual was at risk of self-harm. Lead researcher for the study was Jeffrey Swanson of the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Duke University School of Medicine.
Almost half of the cases were reported to the police by an acquaintance of the subject. Police were required by the law to seek a risk warrant from a judge in order to execute gun removal. Of the 702 gun removal cases where risk-warrant petitions were available for review, suicide or self-injury threat was listed as a concern in 61 percent; risk of harm to others in 32 percent; and risk of harm to both self and others in 9 percent (percentages add up to more than 100 due to overlap in some categories).
Police removed an average of seven guns from each risk-warrant subject.
A match of gun removal cases to state death records revealed that 21 individuals committed suicide after the gun removal event. But based on national data on fatality ratios for suicides, the researchers estimated that the law prevented 71 suicides during the period of the study, or one suicide for every 10 gun seizures, suggesting that the gun removal was an effective intervention.
Researchers noted that the percentage of gun owners in Connecticut affected by the law was small (less than 1 percent), demonstrating a narrowly targeted approach.
Every U.S. study that has examined the relationship has found that access to firearms is a risk factor for suicides. Many suicide attempts are made with little planning during a short-term crisis period, and so effective solutions must take into consideration firearm access for those in crisis. By allowing police to temporarily remove guns from individuals at risk of harming themselves or others the Connecticut law is designed to restrict access to lethal means, a proven method to reduce rates of suicide.
Other states are beginning to consider similar laws that would permit temporary gun removals from owners at risk of harming themselves or others. Indiana has had a law on the books allowing police to remove guns from at-risk persons since 2006, and Texas has had such a law since 2013. Similar laws took effect in California in 2016 and in Washington in 2017, which also allow families and household members, as well as law enforcement officers, to petition a court to remove a person’s access to guns if he or she is in crisis. Ten other states are considering such laws this year.
In California, advocates recently launched an educational campaign called “Speak for Safety” to build awareness of the new law. Participants in the campaign include gun-violence prevention, domestic violence, and public health organizations; leaders in law enforcement; and social impact firm Revolve Impact, based in Los Angeles. The effort includes social media outreach and an education campaign aimed at law enforcement agencies and community organizations throughout the state.
Based on interviews conducted for the study, researchers noted that the Connecticut process could be improved by streamlining the process by requiring the presence of only one police officer in gun seizures (as opposed to the current requirement of two), and finding ways to relieve local police departments of the burden of storing seized firearms for long periods.
For more coverage of this study, see:
- “Laws That Allow for Temporarily Removing Guns from High-Risk People Linked to a Reduction in Suicides,” The Trace
- “Gun Removal Law Curbing Suicide,” MedScape
- “Study shows Connecticut temporary gun removal law lowers suicide risk,” The Chronicle
- “New Report Says Connecticut Gun Removal Law Prevented Dozens of Suicides,” Hartford Courant
 Swanson, Jeffrey W. and Norko, Michael and Lin, Hsiu-Ju and Alanis-Hirsch, Kelly and Frisman, Linda and Baranoski, Madelon and Easter, Michele and Robertson, Allison G. and Swartz, Marvin and Bonnie, Richard J., Implementation and Effectiveness of Connecticut's Risk-Based Gun Removal Law: Does it Prevent Suicides? (August 24, 2016). Law and Contemporary Problems, Forthcoming. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2828...
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