More than 5,100 people killed themselves with a firearm in Indiana during those 10 years after the law took effect. But the statistical analysis shows the law may have prevented an additional 383 suicides by gun, according to the study, led by Aaron Kivisto, an assistant professor of clinical psychology.
The study found Connecticut’s gun-related suicide rate dropped 1.6% in the first few years after its law passed in 1999, relative to what would have been expected without it.
But the drop was more pronounced — 13.7% — from 2007, when Connecticut authorities started using the law more often — to 2015.
What red-flag laws do
This would be based not primarily on criminal history or mental health disqualifications already enshrined in law, but rather over allegations that the person is likely to harm themselves or others.
The laws have drawn criticism from a range of observers, including gun-rights proponents and the Rhode Island chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union.
But supporters say such laws fill a gap. While other laws prohibit gun ownership for previously adjudicated crimes or mental health dispositions, red-flag gun laws can let authorities confiscate guns before a crime or suicide is attempted, when evidence shows danger is imminent.
Connecticut passed its law after a shooting at the state lottery headquarters. Indiana passed one after a police officer was shot and killed in Indianapolis.
While mass shootings seem to spur legislatures to pass red-flag laws, in practice they’ve functioned as a suicide prevention mechanism, Kivisto told CNN.
Kvisito points to research showing that in some years, more than 80% of the red-flag gun seizures in Indianapolis happened because of perceived risks of suicide rather than fears of homicide, domestic violence or psychosis, Kivisto said.
Crunching the numbers
You might wonder how the authors estimated what might have been expected without the laws. The answer: They compared Indiana and Connecticut to an amalgamation of states that were similar in key categories, such as demographics, alcohol consumption, employment rate and gun ownership rate.
So, Indiana was compared to a group of states with similar statistics. From 1981 to 2004, Indiana’s firearm suicide rate (7.3 per 100,000 people) equaled that of the comparison states. But after Indiana enacted its law in 2015, the firearm suicide rate dropped to 6.98 — 7.5% lower than the 7.55 shown by the other states.
There’s mixed evidence on whether the laws are linked to a reduction in suicides by any means.
In Indiana, suicides decreased overall when the law was implemented, driven by the reduction in suicides by firearms, Kivisto said.
But in Connecticut, nonfirearm suicides rose when the law was enforced post-Virginia Tech. The reduction in suicides by guns and the increase in suicides by other means “was almost a wash,” Kivisto said.
There’s been no published research on whether red-flag laws have had effects on homicide rates. “Certainly more research is needed,” the Indianapolis professor said.