West Virginians — citizens and their elected representatives in Congress and the Legislature — ought to pay attention to new research that shows gun suicides declined significantly in Connecticut and Indiana after lawmakers in those two states passed laws allowing police to temporarily confiscate firearms from individuals determined to be a threat to themselves or others.
And data released this week gives new urgency to the matter here at home: An analysis conducted by the Violence Policy Center ranked the Mountain State No. 5 among all states with the highest gun suicide rates. The analysis said states with weak gun violence prevention laws and higher rates of gun ownership have the highest gun suicide rates in the nation. In other words, welcome to West Virginia: With household gun ownership in West Virginia among the leaders at 57.6 percent, and with permissive laws governing the open or concealed carrying of firearms in public, the state is prime territory for self-inflicted tragedy.
It’s time we change that.
There is much that could and should be done to ameliorate the incidence of gun violence in society. Here is a proven solution.
“Red flag” laws allow law enforcement, family members, close associates or friends to petition for a restraining order against a person whom they believe to be dangerous. The process can lead to the temporary confiscation of a person’s firearms.
Much of the debate around red flag laws has been focused on disarming a potential mass murderer. And in the case of the February massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, in which 17 people were killed, the suspect — a 19-year-old former student at the school — had attracted the attention of local police on numerous occasions before his attack.
It is fair to wonder if a red flag law would have prevented that tragedy.
But the gun violence statistic that red flag laws can — and do — dramatically change is gun suicides.
A study published recently in the journal Psychiatric Services examined years of data following the passage of red flag laws in Connecticut, which became the first state to enact this sort of law in 1999, and Indiana, which followed suit in 2005.
In the Hoosier State, the study found a 7.5 percent reduction in firearm suicides in the decade following the red flag law’s enactment. In Connecticut, between 2007 and 2015, the rate hit a 13.7 percent reduction rate in firearm suicides.
“Our data shows that when red flag laws are utilized, they have the effect of preventing large numbers of suicides,” Aaron Kivisto, an assistant professor of clinical psychology at the University of Indianapolis, told HuffPost.
In a departure from inaction at the federal level, individual states are stepping up and passing this particular brand of gun control law. Eight states — including Florida — now have red flag laws on the books.
None too soon, we would add.
The U.S. Department of Justice reports that approximately 60 percent of all adult firearm deaths are by suicide, 61 percent more than deaths by homicide.
The total number of Americans killed in gun suicides increased to 22,938 in 2016, with the nationwide gun suicide rate ticking up to 7.10 per 100,000. In West Virginia the rate was 13.0.
With a gun suicide rate nearly double the national average — West Virginia should be waving its own red flag.