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Yale, Duke, UConn researchers: Gun-seizure law prevents suicides

November 27, 2016

A law enacted in Connecticut in 1999 that allows police to preemptively seize guns from people classified as potentially violent or suicidal has prevented dozens of suicides, according to a study by Yale, Duke, and University of Connecticut researchers.

Michael Norko, MD, Associate Professor of Psychiatry at Yale and Director of Forensic Services for the Connecticut Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services; and Madelon Baranoski, PhD, Professor of Psychiatry at Yale, were among the authors of the study, which will be published in the journal Law and Contemporary Problems.

The researchers examined data from the 762 gun removals conducted under the first-of-its-kind law, enacted a year after a gunman killed four people and then himself at the former Connecticut Lottery headquarters in Newington. The law allows authorities to obtain a civil “risk warrant” from a judge to temporarily seize guns from people considered a risk to themselves or others.

Researchers estimated that one suicide was averted for every 10 to 20 gun seizures, or between 38 and 76 in total, between 1999 and 2013, according to the study. Twenty-one of the 762 gun-removal cases ultimately ended with the person committing suicide after they were again eligible to purchase a gun, or after their guns were returned by authorities.

Results of the study were presented November 17 to the Connecticut Criminal Justice Policy Advisory Commission, which is reviewing the law’s impact on gun violence in the state. The study was also cited November 23 by the Congressional Gun Violence Prevention Task Force, which was formed after the December 14, 2012, shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown to reduce and prevent gun violence.

The study’s data “can help policymakers by framing what is in the balance between risk and rights in the implementation of preemptive gun removal schemes,” the authors wrote. “Ideally, such laws should be carefully tailored to target those few individuals who pose a clear and present risk of harm to themselves or others but who are not otherwise restricted from purchasing or possessing guns.”

Connecticut was the first state to enact a preemptive gun seizure law. Similar laws have since been passed in Indiana, California, and Washington.

Submitted by Christopher Gardner on November 28, 2016