Red flag laws are bogus. The idea of taking guns away from people who haven’t been professionally evaluated solely on the say so of untrained and potentially biased people is an anathema to anyone who claims to value the United States Constitution.
However, they’ve passed in many places and the idea may well take hold at the national level.
The thing is, there’s an alternative that is both constitutional, effective, and viable without additional legislation. You simply make it so people in distress, and their family members, know they’ve got an option.
More than half of all suicide deaths in the U.S. are the result of a firearm. More than 60% of gun deaths are suicides. That’s why public health experts and survivor advocates say easy access to guns is at the heart of the issue. And to tackle the problem, advocates need to engage with gun owners.
Damon’s simple act of voluntarily giving his guns to a family member is an example of what some public health experts hope is a growing movement in preventing firearm suicide: partnering with gun owners themselves to remove guns in times of crisis.
Meghan Francone is one of the people working to prevent these deaths. In her role as the executive director of a local group called Open Heart Advocates, she was one of the victim advocates who went to Damon’s house the night his wife died.
“In our county, individuals are choosing to end their lives with firearm. This is just a fact,” Francone said, adding that her statement is not meant to be political. “I have firearm in my home. I conceal carry. We’re members of the NRA. I’m not anti-firearm, I’m pro gun safety.”
Like so many others in this community, Francone has a personal connection to the issue. Her teenage brother-in-law died by suicide years ago using a gun that was not locked up.
“If we had increased time and distance between my loved one and the most lethal means, we would probably have a loved one today,” she said.
Maybe. It might have saved them. There’s no guarantee that it would.
That said, it’s up to us to do what we can to secure our firearms during times of crisis. I’ve known people who were struggling, so they asked friends to take their firearms for the time being. They voluntarily put in that space in an effort to prevent themselves from doing something during a particularly low point.
It’s something we, as a community, need to back. We also need to make it easier for those who don’t have friends they feel comfortable turning their guns over to.
There are options, though.
Dr. Emmy Betz, an emergency physician at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus and the researcher who created Colorado’s Gun Storage Map — an online tool showing law enforcement agencies and gun shops that offer storage — acknowledges this. Still, because getting rid of all guns is not realistic, Betz strongly advocates for voluntary storage, calling it a “critical first step.” She frames it in terms of harm reduction, not unlike teen sex.
“It would be great to totally prevent unintended pregnancies among teenagers,” Betz said. “We should just make sure no one ever has sex. But knowing that that’s not realistic, what are the next steps that we can take to try to educate teens that — if they are choosing to do that — how can they protect themselves from disease or unintended pregnancies?”
Many public health experts who work on firearm suicide prevention hope that over time, voluntary storage will work because it will become a widespread part of gun culture. Betz hopes that eventually voluntary storage has its own catchphrase, like “Friends Don’t Let Friends Drive Drunk.”
I’m among those who share that hope. (For the record, this isn’t the first time we’ve discussed the Gun Storage Map.)
Look at it from the political side, if nothing else. Somewhere around 60 percent of all firearm-related deaths are suicides. If we reduce that number, the total number of gun-related deaths drops. By doing so, we undercut the anti-gunners favorite argument, to include all gun-related fatalities as one number and present it as a clear danger that has to be addressed.
By reducing that number, we prove that gun control isn’t necessary.
However, plans like this only work if laws don’t get in the way. After all, in states with universal background checks, doing this isn’t considered prudent by the state, but illegal. You can’t just hand your guns over to friends.
That would be where something like Dr. Betz’s Gun Storage Map would come into play.
Still, there are options, and we need to start promoting them as the answer to people in crisis. These are our friends and loved ones. Let’s do better in trying to help them. While removing guns from the equation is only part of the answer, it’s a starting point.