September 8, 2022 Press Releases

Highlighting Washington’s Firearm Suicide Crisis Ahead Of World Suicide Prevention Day

Suicide accounts for 75 percent of gun deaths in Washington state 

Lawmakers have enacted several effective firearm suicide prevention policies in recent years 

SEATTLE, WA – On average, someone dies by suicide every eight hours in Washington state and almost half of those deaths are caused by a firearm. In recognition of World Suicide Prevention Day and National Suicide Prevention Month, the Alliance for Gun Responsibility is highlighting this public health crisis and the existing policies designed to prevent firearm suicide in Washington state. 

Across the country, suicide accounts for three-fifths of all gun deaths. Here in Washington, that number is close to 75 percent. When it comes to suicide prevention, one’s access to lethal means can mean the difference between life or death. Access to a firearm in the home increases the risk of suicide three-fold. And firearms are by far the most lethal suicide method, with close to nine out of 10 attempts being fatal. Americans purchased an estimated 40.7 million firearms in 2020 and 2021, adding a record number of weapons to a country with more guns than people. 

Historically, families, people in crisis, care providers, and law enforcement have not had effective tools to help prevent firearm suicides in our state. Fortunately, that has changed in recent years, with Washington now leading the charge to reduce firearm suicide. 

While there is currently only limited data available, initial numbers show that Washington’s firearm suicide prevention policies may have contributed to a recent decrease in firearm suicide. Between 2019 and 2020 (the most recent period for which full data is available), firearm suicides decreased 4 percent in Washington while increasing 1.5 percent nationally, according to Alliance for Gun Responsibility Foundation analysis. That decrease occurred despite the COVID-19 crisis exacerbating multiple risk factors for suicide, including financial strains and loss of employment, social isolation, and access to lethal means. 

Below are five policies designed to 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 may pose a threat to themselves or others. Research has shown that as many as 10 suicides are prevented for every 100 guns secured by Extreme Risk Protection Orders. The policy is often referred to as a “red flag law,” and the federal Bipartisan Safer Communities Act dedicated $750 million in funding for states to implement these laws. 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 of suicide to take their personal safety into their own hands. Washington was the first state to enact such a policy. Since then, Virginia and Utah have followed suit and Rep. Jayapal has proposed a federal version. More on voluntary waivers here

Access Prevention

In 2018, Washington voters passed Initiative 1639, which includes a safe storage provision that holds gun owners legally accountable if their unsecured firearm falls into the hands of a child or another person prohibited from possessing guns. Safe firearm storage can create a meaningful and lifesaving barrier between suicidal thoughts and action. This policy is particularly effective for keeping guns out of the hands of children and youth, who too often die by suicide with a firearm found unsecured in their 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. Under a law passed by the state legislature in 2019, individuals who are exhibiting dangerous behavior are subject to a temporary, six-month prohibition on firearm possession or purchase, helping to ensure that they and their families have time to safely seek treatment and locate a path to recovery.

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 or experiencing suicidal thoughts to give their firearms to a trusted person for safekeeping until they no longer pose a threat to themselves.