One of the nation’s most populous states now is one of its most regressive for firearms owners. With the New Year comes Illinois’ Firearms Restraining Order Act, which enacts a so-called “red flag” law enabling police to remove lawfully owned firearms from law-abiding citizens that others deem to be a danger to themselves or others.
Much like the proverbial road to Hell, the red flag law comes with good intentions that, ultimately, lead to bad policy. In this case, Illinois lawmakers want to prevent the use of firearms for suicides, domestic violence and mass shootings. Certainly, those are lofty goals that make people feel warm and fuzzy to embrace. Reality, though, paints a very different picture.
The American Psychiatric Association (APA) in 2014 published its “Resource Document on Access to Firearms by People with Mental Disorders.” The seminal report addresses the “complex relationship between firearms, mental illness, suicide and violence,” and concludes red flag laws often unfairly stigmatize people with mental illness.
That is because media reports and popular opinion within the anti-gun crowd suggest anyone with any kind of mental health issues is a potential mass-shooter. Yet, the APA shows the majority of those subjected to red flag laws have no history of mental illness, and red flag laws primarily are used to prevent potential suicides.
The highly restrictive Firearms Restraining Order Act accompanies several significant changes to Illinois’ existing gun laws. After studying red flag laws in Indiana and Connecticut, which were enacted in the wake of mass shootings, the APA reports red flag laws almost never are used to prevent violence. Instead, they almost always are used to stop the use of firearms in suicide attempts.
“The laws are directed toward individuals in crisis, typically without a known history of mental illness,” the APA says. That is another way of saying the laws do not prevent violence and likely would not stop a single mass shooting. Yet, about three-fourths of the time, the red flag laws resulted in permanent removal of firearms from law-abiding owners, simply because other people intruded and judged them to be dangers to themselves.
The APA reports red flag laws remove the means by which people might cause harm to themselves or others, yet acknowledges they only are effective in preventing a small percentage of suicides. The APA suggests Connecticut’s red flag law might prevent one suicide for every 10 to 20 gun removals completed by local authorities. Yet, the APA admits there is no conclusive evidence to support that notion.
Instead, the APA points to Australia and other nations having enacted restrictive gun laws. In Australia, the APA says enacting restrictive gun laws that made it harder for people to obtain firearms led to a reduction in the nation’s suicide rates. That is a false conclusion. Those laws took effect in 1996, and were initially followed by a reduction in suicides and other violence. Those reductions did not last, and critics say firearms violence and suicides already were declining in Australia prior to 1996. Subsequent data supports the critics of Australia’s restrictive gun laws, which include waiting periods for ownership and proof of a need for firearms.
Suicide has been on the rise in Australia over the past decade, and not declining. The problem of suicide has become so pervasive that many in Australia are calling for national efforts to reduce suicide rates by 25 percent across the nation. The one culprit not cited? Yep. Firearms. That’s because suicide happens regardless the tools used to complete the task.
The APA report claims states with restrictive gun laws enjoy low suicide rates, particularly when compared to states with relatively high suicide rates. The states with higher rates of gun ownership have correspondingly high rates of suicide, the APA claims. Yet, that conclusion is skewed at best.
As should be expected, states with highest rates of suicide also are the most rural, such as Montana and North Dakota. They also have long, hard, brutal winters and relatively low population densities. Yet, those states are not crime-riddled cesspools, like Chicago and many large cities in Illinois and other states. And they do not have nearly the level of violence.
Studies also show states with highly restrictive gun laws are experiencing rising rates of suicide – just like in Australia. That is because access to firearms is not the cause. Yet, Illinois’ new red flag law would remove firearms from lawful owners in as little as a day. Studies show those firearms mostly won’t be returned, and no lives were saved from their confiscation.