Will Donna’s Law Reduce Gun Related Suicides
An ABC News article from earlier this week covered a daughter's tragic story of her mother's 2018 suicide. That tragedy was the catalyst for legislation called Donna's Law. Today, three states have adopted the legislation, and many believe all states should have similar laws. Is the law a tool that can help reduce the number of gun related suicide deaths?
In any year, suicides account for 50-65% of all deaths using firearm. For example, in 2020, the CDC reported 45,222 deaths from gun related injuries. Of those 45,222 deaths, 24,292 (54%) were suicides involving firearms. On top of that, when someone uses a firearm, they die c95% of the time, which is much higher than any other means. So if folks in crisis did not have access to firearms, many of them might survive.
What is Donna's Law—
Donna's Law, already adopted by Utah, Washington and Virginia, provides a method by which any person can sign a waiver, temporarily forfeiting their Second Amendment right to purchase a firearm, and adding their name to the NICS system and a prohibited person. Each state is slightly different. In Washington State, for example, the waiver is valid for 7 days, during which the applicant cannot purchase a gun or revoke the waiver. After the 7-day period, the applicant can advise law enforcement to nullify the waiver. Washington law states police must destroy the paperwork upon termination of the waiver, and the applicant's use of Donna's Law cannot be used in any court proceedings.
In the ABC News article, Alabama Law Professor Fred Vars is asked, “Do you have confidence that people who are suicidal would voluntarily request not to be sold a gun?” Vars responds:
During a suicidal crisis or depressive episode, I think it is unlikely that anybody would sign up. But there are a lot of people who've been in that dark place who come out the other side and know they're a danger to themselves. It's more like an advance directive. Here, while I'm feeling better, let me prepare myself for that, and just get the gun out of the equation.
Does Donna's Law Work—
I haven't found an incident where someone used Donna's Law to avert purchasing a gun and killing themselves. However, I wouldn't expect to due to the privacy component. That doesn't mean no one is alive because of the law, or that it's a bad law.
I agree with Vars' assessment that something like Donna's Law is not a tool for someone experiencing a crisis at the moment.
What Vars is saying, and the principle that Donna's Law hangs on, has to do with individual responsibility. Donna's Law does not work without a responsible individual who doesn't want to harm anyone, but fears they could during a crisis. Are most people responsible and self-aware enough to go through prohibiting themselves from purchasing a firearm? Maybe.
I think a hurdle to Donna's Law is the negative stigma that comes with mental disorders. Those with depression might not be willing to tell the police they need to fill out the Donna's Law waiver. This is the same barrier that keeps many veterans from asking for help with mental disorders like PTSD.
For a non gun owner, Donna's Law might be a great tool. Someone who doesn't own a gun, and doesn't really see the need to own one, but just doesn't want to buy one with ill intent when they aren't thinking clearly. This type of person is probably less concerned with the future of their Second Amendment rights, and less prone to be skeptical of the government using the waiver against them in the future.
I want to like Donna's Law, and mostly, I do. I have some natural concerns with privacy and records retention of the waiver. There is also a concern the police would use the law to coerce people into giving up their rights, which is not a good thing, even if only temporarily. So far in the states that have the law, it doesn't seem this is the case.
Donna's Law and the Gun Owner—
Donna's Law isn't necessarily the tool for someone who owns a gun already, though. Gun owners dealing with mental illness or just a difficult time in life need support that Donna's Law is not designed to address. Of course, proper storage is important and the first line for any responsible gun owner. But what if just keeping your guns locked away isn't enough of a deterrent for you to use it against yourself?
Please reach out to someone. It's so important that we invest in others and let them know they have someone to turn to. I've been asked to hold gun's for friends going through tough times. I've had to go take a gun from a friend who needed help. These people weren't bad, and they eventually got through it and got their guns back. But they needed someone in that moment. But what if you don't have someone you trust? What can you do?
Not too long ago, we interviewed Sarah Joy, the founder of a non-profit organization called Hold My Guns. We spoke with her on the podcast and she explained what led her to start the organization that partners with FFLs across the country to provide no questions asked safe gun storage for gun owners who want someone to hold their guns while they get through a crisis. Because of various gun transfer laws, it might not even be legal for a gun owner to give someone their guns to hold while they sort things out. Hold My Guns is an incredible organization that I support and hope will continue to spread across the country.
Talking about the topic of suicide is not something most people want to do. I've lost friends and family members to gun related suicide, so it's something that I understand. I don't think Donna's Law is the solution, but I also don't suspect it's a trojan horse for gun confiscation.
Thank you for a clear, unbiased explanation. I’m bipolar and even though I’m consistent and faithful about taking my meds, there are times my depressions overwhelm me. I look forward to having this be a law in my state (Nebraska) or even be the law in all states. It will provide me with one more proof that the suicidal thoughts are temporary and that I trust myself to make it back to self control. When things are bad, I don’t have to give up.
Thank you Amy, praying that you would have people that you can trust and that love you. We all need that when we are struggling, especially when it comes to suicidal thoughts and firearm ownership. Thank you for sharing.
Donna’s Law doesn’t conflict with Hold My Guns but covers an area not addressed by it. Neither does Hold My Gun cover a gun owner who, having turned over weapons, might think to just go buy another one. Donna’s Law covers that gap. They can work together.