Letter to the Editor

Red Flag laws can help lower suicide risk

Dear Editor,

       May is Mental Health Awareness Month. While there’s so much one can talk about during this time, from the accessibility of mental health services to stigma, it’s important to not forget about gun violence.

       When a mass shooting happens, it often renews talk of keeping guns out of the hands of people with mental illness. Though many people think that those with mental illness are more likely to carry out such shootings, research has shown that people with severe mental illness commit an extremely small percentage of violent crimes. In fact, this population is much more likely to be victims of violent crime than perpetrators.

       But while mental illness doesn’t make someone more likely to shoot someone else, it does increase the risk of attempting suicide. Nearly 2/3 of all gun deaths in the U.S. are suicides, and using a gun to attempt suicide makes death much more likely. Guns account for 90% of suicide deaths, not because they’re used more but because of how deadly they are.

       These deaths are preventable. If someone you know is showing signs of being a danger to themselves due to mental illness, and they have access to guns, consider Massachusetts’ Extreme Risk Protection Order (ERPO, or red flag law, www.mass.gov/extreme-risk-protection-orders). This law gives family members, household members, and law enforcement the ability to petition the court to temporarily remove guns from dangerous situations and restrict access, which can give your loved one a chance to get the help they need, and can greatly reduce their risk of dying by suicide. Such ERPO orders are civil court orders and do not go on a person’s criminal record.

       No official mental illness diagnosis is necessary to ask for guns to be temporarily removed from someone under a red flag law – a crucial component, since many people who experience a mental health crisis have no diagnosed mental illness.

       Red flag laws aren’t about “taking away guns.” They’re about preventing harm. So this Mental Health Awareness Month, please remember this important tool to help loved ones who may be at risk of harming themselves.

Erica Hersh

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