Suicide Experts Urge States to Tweak Background Check Laws to Account for Emergency Gun Transfers

December 09, 2016

News Type:  Weekly Spark, Weekly Spark News

The Trace

Policies on universal background checks may affect efforts to reduce firearm suicides, according to a new paper published in the Journal of the American Medical Association. The authors examined the legal challenges to temporary firearm transfer and found that background check laws could have “unintended consequences” in the event of a suicidal crisis. While some mental health clinicians counsel suicidal individuals to remove guns from their homes, some state laws requiring background checks on transfers may make that process difficult to carry out. According to the authors, background check mandates serve an important purpose and should remain in place. Coauthor Jon Vernick, a professor at the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health, said “There is already a very persuasive body of research that tells us these laws reduce homicide and suicide.” However, they recommended that the laws be amended to allow clinicians and patients to quickly transfer firearms to licensed dealers, law enforcement, family members, or friends for temporary storage. They also advocated for procedures to extend transfer periods based on clinician assessment. Given the lethality of guns, “it’s particularly important to remove access. People who attempt with a firearm rarely get a second chance,” said coauthor Carol Runyan, director of the Program for Injury Prevention, Education, and Research at the Colorado School of Public Health.

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