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Could red flag laws lower Utah’s suicide rate?

SALT LAKE CITY – A bill making its way through the Utah legislature this session may have the power to lower suicide rates, according to an activist.

Action Utah policy director Monica Bellenger says an “Extreme Risk Protective Order” bill proposed by Representative Stephen Handy, R-Layton, is poised to reduce the number of suicides committed by firearm each year. The so-called “red flag law” would allow Utahns to petition the courts to temporarily restrict a family member’s access to guns if they can prove that their loved one poses a suicide threat or a threat to others.

According to a report released last year by Utah’s Department of Human Services, 85 percent of all firearm deaths in Utah between 2006-2015 were suicides. Firearm suicides were significantly more likely to be fatal than other suicide methodologies – 87 percent of all attempted shootings ended fatally, as opposed to 44 percent of attempted suffocations or hangings, 27 percent of attempted lethal gas inhalations and much lower rates for other methods.

“We know in cases of firearms suicide and firearms homicides, it’s access to lethal means that matter,” Bellenger told KSL’s Jay McFarland. “Essentially extreme risk protective orders are restricting access to lethal means, which is a well-known methodology to prevent suicide.”

Bellenger emphasized ERPOs’ 20-year history and their effectiveness in lowering firearm suicide rates in other states. Studies published in the Psychiatric Services and Law and Contemporary Problems journals found that the implementation of red flag laws led to a 7.5 percent decrease in Indiana’s firearm suicide rate and 14 percent decrease in Connecticut’s firearm suicide rate.

“There is a long evidence base that [extreme risk protective orders] are very helpful in terms of preventing firearm suicide,” Bellenger said. “This is something that Utah families – it is a tool that they don’t currently have. It’s a tool that Utah families could use. We know that we can save lives by doing so.”

McFarland has long used his platform, the JayMac News Show, to advocate for the mentally ill and suicidal. He is a strong supporter of H.B. 209.

You can join the conversation online by using #gunwatch or by getting text updates about the bill if you text GUNS to 57500.