September 9, 2019 Press Releases

Washington’s Firearm Suicide Crisis

Highlighting new suicide prevention policies in recognition of National Suicide Awareness Month

SEATTLE, WA – On average, someone dies by suicide every eight hours in Washington state and almost half of those suicides are carried out with a firearm. In recognition of National Suicide Prevention Month this September, the Alliance for Gun Responsibility is highlighting life-saving policies designed to prevent firearm suicide. 

Across the country, suicide accounts for three-fifths of all gun deaths. Here in Washington state, suicide accounts for nearly 75 percent of all gun deaths. Easy access to firearms for individuals at high risk, limited tools to remove firearms from people in crisis, and the high lethality of firearms in suicide attempts create a situation where, too often, people in crisis are dying without the opportunity to get the help they need. 

Historically, families, people in crisis, care providers, and law enforcement have not had effective tools to help prevent firearms suicides in our state. Fortunately, that is changing, and Washington is now leading the charge to reduce firearms suicide. Outlined below are five policies designed to help remove the threat of firearms from crisis situations and prevent suicide. 

Extreme Risk Protection Orders (ERPOs)

Extreme Risk Protection Orders, established through Initiative 1491 in 2016, give law enforcement or families, through a court process, a legal pathway to remove guns from an individual who poses a threat to themselves or others. Research has shown that as many as 10 suicides are prevented for every 100 guns removed by Extreme Risk Protection Orders. Learn more about ERPOs here

Voluntary Waivers

Since January 2019, Washingtonians have been able to voluntarily request that they be placed on a list of individuals ineligible to purchase firearms. The policy, which only requires individuals to fill out a simple form and present it to a specified court official (along with identification), empowers individuals who know they may be at risk to take their safety into their own hands. Washington is currently the only state in the country with this simple, commonsense tool. More on voluntary waivers here

Access Prevention

In 2018, Washington voters passed Initiative 1639 which incentivizes gun owners to safely store their firearms by holding irresponsible gun owners legally responsible if their firearm falls into the hands of a child or another prohibited person. Safe storage creates a meaningful barrier between suicidal thoughts and action. This policy will also help keep guns out of the hands of children and teens, who often die as a result of self-inflicted gunshot wounds from firearms found in the home. More on dangerous access prevention here

Firearms and 72-Hour Involuntary Holds

Individuals in crisis are often held for 72 hours under Washington’s Involuntary Treatment Act. Thanks to a law passed in 2019, these individuals who are exhibiting dangerous behavior will be subject to a temporary, six-month prohibition on firearms possession or purchase, helping to ensure that they and their families have time to seek treatment.

Temporary Emergency Transfers 

In 2017, Washington’s firearm transfer statutes were amended to allow for temporary emergency transfer of firearms between private citizens in order to prevent suicide. This change allows a gun owner in crisis to give their firearms to a trusted person for safekeeping until they no longer pose a threat to themselves.