MORE THAN 100 Americans die by guns every day in this country, with hundreds more shot and wounded. And right now, with families quarantining, economic turmoil, and a historic spike in gun sales, the risks of gun suicide — risks I’ve seen firsthand — are rising and rising.
Fifteen years ago, a close family member of mine attempted suicide by a gunshot to the head. By a miracle, he survived — but we’ve all lived with the effects to this day. An extreme risk law could have enabled us to get that gun out of his hands, and right now, New Hampshire lawmakers have a chance to put that law on the books.
Before shooting himself, my relative was on the verge of eviction from his apartment. He was depressed and in crisis. We knew he was suicidal. He had exhibited signs and symptoms, and we all knew he had a gun. He wasn’t my child — he was an adult. We spoke with lawyers, doctors, psychologists — all returned with the same answer: “There’s nothing we can do to limit his access to guns.”
And because New Hampshire didn’t have an Extreme Risk law, they were right. There was nothing I could do.
But this session, New Hampshire lawmakers can change that. They have the chance to do something to help protect people in crisis from hurting themselves or others — and they’ve already started to. On the first day of session, the New Hampshire House of Representatives passed HB 687, a comprehensive extreme risk bill that would give loved ones the ability to intervene before tragedy strikes.
An overwhelming 90 percent of all gun deaths in New Hampshire are suicides — and the rate of gun suicide in New Hampshire increased by 55 percent between 2009 and 2018. We know that the number one determinant of whether a suicide attempt results in death is the method used. Approximately 90 percent of suicide attempts using a gun end in death. By contrast, 4 percent of suicide attempts without a gun result in death — and the vast majority of those who survive a suicide attempt do not go on to die by suicide. And research shows that having access to a firearm triples one’s risk of death by suicide.
Extreme risk laws, like the one HB 687 would create, help prevent gun suicide by allowing loved ones to seek a court order that temporarily restricts access to firearms by people in crisis. We’ve already seen these laws at work across the country. After Connecticut increased enforcement of its extreme risk law, one study showed that the state’s firearm suicide rate decreased by 14 percent. Those are people who are alive today because lawmakers realized that loved ones who recognize warning signs of danger need tools to prevent tragedies before it’s too late.
These laws also help prevent mass shootings and school shootings. In 54 percent of mass shootings between 2009 and 2018, the shooter exhibited at least one warning sign that they posed a risk to themselves or others. And according to a recent Secret Service report on school violence between 2008 and 2017, 100 percent of school attackers exhibited warning signs beforehand — warning signs that loved ones or law enforcement could have acted on if extreme risk laws were on the books.
Among New Hampshire voters and across the country, extreme risk laws have broad, bipartisan support. Republican governors in Vermont, Florida, Illinois, Maryland, and Massachusetts have all signed extreme risk bills into law. 85 percent of Americans in key battleground states — including 78 percent of gun owners — want Congress to pass an extreme risk law. And here in New Hampshire, a full 81 percent of voters — including 71 percent of those who identify as strongly Republican — support extreme risk laws.
And let’s be clear — extreme risk laws in no way threaten New Hampshire’s proud culture of responsible gun ownership. Extreme risk laws have been upheld in the courts as constitutional, and HB 687 has robust due process protections — with full hearings before judges, witnesses, and evidence from all parties. And in instances where there’s an imminent risk of harm, courts can only remove firearms from a person in crisis for five days before a hearing must be held, at which all parties have a right to appear.
Right now, our state senators and the governor have the opportunity to save lives. There is legislation in front of them that would offer a smart approach to confronting gun violence in the state. With gun deaths from suicide in New Hampshire continuing to rise, our lawmakers need to pass comprehensive extreme risk legislation. No more families should have to go through what mine had to.