Jul 12, 2022 - Politics & Policy

First look: New gun safety bill addresses suicide risk

Illustration of a gun with a gavel for a trigger.

Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

A bipartisan duo of House lawmakers is introducing a novel gun safety measure to put purchase restrictions in the hands of the buyer — a voluntarily “do not sell” list for people living with mental health issues.

Why it matters: The plan by Reps. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) and John Curtis (R-Utah) aims to address this sobering statistic: More than half of firearm-related deaths in 2020 were by suicide.

  • Just 4% of overall suicide attempts — but nine in 10 with a gun — end in death, according to gun safety group Everytown.
  • Washington and Utah are among the states that already have implemented measures to reduce firearms-related suicide. This legislation would create a federal database.

The details: The Voluntary Purchase Delay Database would be a secure, internet-based platform, separate from criminal background check systems, established and maintained by the attorney general.

  • Requests to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) for firearm purchases would include a search through the voluntary database.
  • Individuals who had enrolled themselves would be flagged, blocking their own ability to make a purchase. People could sign up at any time and could remove themselves after 21 days and with clearance from a mental health professional.

What they're saying: "Comprehensively addressing the gun violence epidemic in our country means ending gun suicides too." Jayapal said in a statement. "Our bill ensures that people who are liable to hurt themselves cannot access a firearm."

  • Curtis said creating a national system could help Americans around the country who have come to terms with their own vulnerabilities. "It takes incredible courage by those experiencing a mental health emergency to recognize the danger they pose to themselves."

Reality check: The plan would likely need support from leadership Republicans to advance in the Senate.

  • When asked Tuesday about the Jayapal-Curtis plan, Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), the chief GOP negotiator on the recently passed gun package, told Axios: "I think we're done on guns for a while."

If you or someone you know may be considering suicide, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 (En español: 1-888-628-9454; Deaf and Hard of Hearing: dial 711 then 1-800-273-8255) or the Crisis Text Line by texting HOME to 741741.

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