ANNAPOLIS, Md. — Mass shootings make headlines, but experts say more than half the gun deaths in America are suicide.
Maryland’s House of Delegates passed a bill designed to reduce the number of suicides by firearm. It's now up for a hearing in the Maryland Senate.
Donna’s Law would let people put themselves on a do not sell list for guns. Advocates see it as a new kind of suicide prevention law.
Bryan Barks has been one of the fiercest advocates for the Maryland Voluntary Do Not Sell Firearm Registry. It was during a beautiful spring a couple of years ago that Barks was in the depths of despair, researching how to buy a gun and use it on herself.
"I think that's when you kind of know that things are getting a little out of hand a little out of control,” she said.
Barks, who is bipolar, testified in favor of the legislation that would allow people to put themselves on a state Health Department list and keep licensed firearms dealers from selling them a gun.
"This bill would allow people prone to suicidality the agency to make decisions about their own access to guns when they're not actively suicidal," she told a House committee in February.
Donna’s Law – named after a New Orleans woman who died by suicide with a firearm – has gone nowhere in Congress. But Virginia, Washington, and Utah have passed it, and now Maryland is halfway there.
“We do this with problem gamblers in Maryland. If you think you’re a problem gambler, you can sign yourself up to stop yourself from being able to enter casinos. And we’re doing the same thing now for people contemplating suicide to be able to stop themselves from being able to purchase firearms,” said Del. David Moon (D-Montgomery County), the bill's lead sponsor.
Researchers say roughly three out of every five gun deaths in America are suicides. That’s about 25,000 firearm suicide deaths a year. And experts say 95% of people who try to kill themselves with a gun succeed – they don’t get a second chance.
“In between periods of suicidality, I am thinking clearly most of the time, and when I'm thinking clearly I'm really scared, and sometimes horrified at what the dark part of my mind thinks of," Barks said.
Supporters expect a couple of dozen people a year would voluntarily put themselves on the do not sell list. It would be a crime to fraudulently put someone else on the list. And you could take yourself off the list after a three-week waiting period.
“By the time 21 days pass, they may not be feeling suicidal anymore,” said Barks.
Donna’s Law passed the Maryland House with an overwhelming supermajority. If it passes the Senate and is approved by the governor, you should be able to sign up confidentially online by the end of the year.