Most gun-involved deaths in the United States aren’t the result of a homicide. Instead, suicide involving firearms accounts for about 60% of all gun-related fatalities each year; a data point that few gun control activists acknowledge when they’re demanding gun bans, magazine capacity restrictions, and “may issue” concealed carry laws. On the rare occasions when they do acknowledge this fact, it’s generally to demand other gun control laws like Extreme Risk Protection Orders, waiting periods, and measure to promote or even mandate “smart gun” technology.
One idea that’s caught on in recent years, at least among some lawmakers, is a voluntary “Do Not Sell” list that allows individuals to place their names on a registry that bars them from legally purchasing a firearm. Washington State lawmakers were the first to approve such a law back in 2019, and Virginia followed suit in 2020. Utah was the first red state to adopt a “Do Not Sell” law, which went into effect in 2021, but despite high hopes for the law among gun control activists and suicide prevention advocates, so far the number of folks interested in actually putting their names on the list is pretty close to “zero.”
In the 14 months that the law has been in place in Utah, for example, just five people have informed the state that they shouldn’t be allowed to buy a gun.
As of July, five people have chosen to voluntarily restrict themselves from possessing a firearm, according to previous Deseret News reporting.
Since “do not sell” policies are fairly new, that puts “a lot of eyes on Utah,” said Evan Goldstein, assistant professor in the department of population health sciences at the University of Utah School of Medicine.
In Washington state, which was the first state to implement a voluntary “do not sell” program in 2019, 13 people had signed up as of July 2020, the Virginia Mercury reported.
Goldstein, who studies how public policy can protect against firearm suicide, said the lack of use could point to challenges in the implementation or promotion of the program.
“It’s one thing to have a policy and then it’s another thing to effectively implement and promote a policy so that it’s successful,” he said.
I’ve tried (and so far) failed to find out how many Virginians have put themselves on the commonwealth’s “Do Not Sell” list, but I’ll update this story with the current info if I can get my hands on it, but suffice it to say that if thousands, or even hundreds of Virginians had signed up I’m pretty sure that the Democrats who voted for the measure would be touting its success.
That’s not happening in Virginia, or Washington, or in Utah. In fact, the conversations at the moment are focused on how to get more people to put themselves on the list, which is where I start to have real problems. I’m okay in theory with the idea of a strictly voluntary list, though I don’t think many people are going to use it, but once there’s even a hint of coercion then my position switches from agnosticism to outright opposition. And I’m definitely opposed to one idea being floated in Utah on how to “improve” the state’s Do Not Sell list.
Currently, individuals who wish to restrict their firearm access have to take a form into a law enforcement agency and present it to an officer.
[Rep. Steve] Eliason, who sponsored the bill, said he plans to introduce changes in the upcoming legislative session in hopes of making the program more accessible.
One change he would like to make is to add an option for medical professionals to aid individuals in the process.
The proposal would allow a person to fill out the form in front of a medical professional who would verify the individual’s identity and then allow the medical professional to take the form to law enforcement on behalf of the individual.
Eliason said the change is to help “streamline” the process as it’s “too unduly burdensome right now.”
It’s not a stretch of the imagination to believe that many “medical professionals” might not be content to simply witness someone sign away their Second Amendment rights and would cross the line into advocating that they do so (for their own safety, of course). In fact, I’m sure that some mental health professionals would say they have an obligation to do so if it they believe it will save a life.
And therein lies the problem. Like “red flag” laws, these “Do Not Sell” lists attempt to put a Band-Aid on a much bigger and deeper issue: mental health and a lack of services for those in need. One-quarter of mental health referrals in King County, Washington are being declined at the moment because of a number of issues from not being able to address the medical needs of those in crisis to a shortage of inpatient beds. In Utah and Virginia it’s much the same. Rather than address the underlying problems, lawmakers are taking the easy way out by offering up these soundbite solutions that do nothing to actually treat mental illness or suicidal ideation, and all too often leave someone who poses a danger to themselves or others to their own devices.
A “Do Not Sell” list is much cheaper to maintain than adequately funding state-run mental health hospitals or outpatient programs, but it’s a gun-centric approach to what is ultimately an issue that stretches far beyond firearm ownership. We shouldn’t deny that gun-related suicides are a concern, but fundamentally the problem is suicide, not the means that might be used. Even if these “Do Not Sell” laws have the best of intentions behind them, the results are so negligible as to be non-existent, and it’s time to move past these “do something” measures and actually do something that works.