Legislation set to be introduced in Wisconsin would let residents ban themselves from purchasing new guns for up to two decades. The aim of the voluntary “no-buy list” would be to cut firearm suicides, which remain stubbornly high in rural states.
Under the measure, anyone who wants to prohibit him- or herself from legally owning a handgun would apply to the Wisconsin Department of Justice to be placed on a no-guns list for a period of one, five, or 20 years. Participants who wish to restore their rights would re-apply to the state DOJ with the help of a mental health professional.
The idea for the bill — formally filed as LRB-3529, or the Firearm Self-Exclusion Program — comes from programs in Illinois, Iowa, and Michigan that allow gambling addicts to bar themselves from casinos. Last year, researchers at the University of Alabama surveyed 200 psychiatric patients at high risk of suicide and found that nearly half of them would put themselves on a roster of prohibited gun buyers.
Fredrick Vars is the Alabama law professor who led that study. “I’d frame it as simple self-preservation,” he told The Trace. “People seeking psychiatric care, like the rest of us, would rather live than die. Psychiatric patients recognize that they are at elevated risk of suicide. Restricting your own access to guns makes it more likely that you’ll survive a suicidal crisis.”
Vars contends that the Wisconsin bill “will definitely save lives.”
Nearly half of Wisconsin’s suicides are committed with a gun, according to the state Department of Health Services. Nationwide, guns result in more deaths than every other method combined, because of their lethal efficiency. While other means of suicide are tried more frequently, attempts with guns are more often fatal – 87 percent lead to death, compared to just 3 percent of drug-overdose suicide attempts.
Other research suggests that recent handgun buyers may be at elevated risk of suicide: A California study found that people who had purchased a handgun in the past year had a suicide rate 57 times higher than the general population.