Pennsylvania Push For Red Flag Laws Missing The Point

Pennsylvania is considering a red flag law.

They’re not alone on that, of course. A lot of states have either passed them or have considered such a measure. The problem, besides the obvious, is that the seem to be pushing this primarily as a suicide prevention tool.

Now, the idea sounds fine to many. After all, if someone’s a risk to themselves, why not take their guns so they can’t easily commit suicide?

However, the problem is that Pennsylvanian proponents of the bill are at cross purposes and missing the point entirely.

Reducing stigma tied to mental health issues, removing barriers to treatment and seeking passage of a so-called “red flag” law to allow for removing firearms from people at risk of suicide will be among themes guiding a statewide suicide prevention strategy.

Putting together such a strategy was the heart of a preliminary report issued Tuesday by a task force that studied suicide prevention and held a series of 10 listening sessions around the state late last year.

“Someone you know is struggling, but they don’t have to struggle alone,” Department of Human Services Secretary Teresa Miller said at a Capitol press conference to unveil the report. “Compassion can make all the difference for someone in need.”

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there were 2,030 suicide deaths in Pennsylvania in 2017, and its rate of suicide deaths ranked 15th in the nation.

Now, this looks all fine and good except for a few things.

First, we’re finding that suicide rates climb in states with red flag laws. In other words, the law being expressly justified in part by preventing suicides not just isn’t having the desired effect, but may actually be making the problem worse. That’s not just someone seeing correlation and claiming causation, either.

You see, part of the mechanism here may well be fears of seeking help by some because they don’t want their guns taken away. So they keep the issue bottled up and don’t talk to anyone about their depression. Now, it doesn’t take a professional to know that’s not a good recipe for success, yet that’s likely what’s happening here.

Not only that, but some people are likely trusting the red flag law to remove the ability for a loved one to commit suicide rather than involuntary confinement, but forget that there are a number of ways to kill yourself. A gun isn’t the only tool for doing that.

Another thing these folks in Pennsylvania are trying to argue here is that they want to remove the stigma of mental illness. Now, I’ll be the first to agree that such a thing is a great thing. I just don’t understand how they can see red flaw laws as somehow benefiting that goal. If anything, it makes the stigma worse, suggesting that those who are suffering from depression simply can’t be trusted with guns.

Look, there are mechanisms in place to deal with people who represent a threat to themselves or others. Those mechanisms also make it so the person in question can’t find an alternative means of suicide.

Honestly, I get the desire to do something here, but red flag laws aren’t the answer.

I mean, unless you want to add to the stigma of mental illness, discourage people from seeking help, and overall just letting more of your population kill themselves because you’re not interested in looking any deeper.

If that’s your goal, fine. Otherwise, you need to do something else.