September is National Suicide Prevention Awareness Month. Nationally, the rate of suicide has increased by 30 percent since 1999, and Minnesota has paralleled the national trend, according to CDC data. Moreover, the Minnesota Department of Health reports that suicide now accounts for almost 80 percent of gun deaths in our state. Equally distressing is that nationwide on average 20 service veterans die by their own hand every day, far outstripping those who die in combat, according to the Department of Veteran Affairs.
One very salient fact surrounding the issue is that if a person in crisis who is contemplating suicide picks up a gun, he or she will almost certainly lose their life. CDC data shows that suicide attempts with a gun are successful 85-90 percent of the time, compared to 5 percent by other means. University of Colorado research has shown that the time between the decision to act and then following through is usually very brief. Researchers go on to say that it is therefore critically important to remove firearms from the home if they are present, or at the very least, attempt to make them inaccessible.
Republican leadership in the Minnesota Senate has refused to hold hearings on a bill that passed in the House, and would be a crucial tool in equipping family members of persons in crisis, to temporarily remove guns from the home. The bill — of a type called Extreme Risk Protection Orders or Red Flag Laws — would provide for due process through a judge’s order, and be a civil proceeding, not a criminal one. It would allow family members to petition to legally remove guns from the home on a temporary basis.
Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka has claimed that improvements in mental health care alone provide the solution to the suicide crisis. As important as that is, the aforementioned studies demonstrate that it is in no way sufficient. If a loved one is at risk of harming him/herself, of course psychological treatment is in order. But in the meantime it is obvious that removing weapons from the mix is vitally important. Extreme Risk Protection Orders need to become law in our state. Call Gazelka’s office and tell him to do his job.
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