Study shows psychiatric patients open to 'Do Not Sell' lists

A study released last week by researchers at the University of Alabama shows some support among suicidal patients for ‘Do Not Sell’ lists.

Fredrick Vars, a professor for the university’s school of law, said about half of the 200 people surveyed for the study would “willingly place their names on such a list,” preventing firearms dealers from “immediately” transferring guns to mentally unstable individuals.

“There is evidence that suicide, in particular suicide-by-gun, is often impulsive — that once an individual decides to take their own life they are, in many cases, able to quickly obtain a firearm and use it,” Vars said in a university press release Wednesday. “The concept of a Do Not Sell list, similar to the national Do Not Call list, would be to eliminate such impulsive transactions. Restricting access to firearms, even temporarily, could save many lives.”

The study, published Oct.5 in Suicide and Life Threatening Behavior, the official journal of the American Association of Suicidology, aimed “to determine whether a significant number of high suicide risk individuals would confidentially put their own names onto a list to prevent future gun purchases.”

Vars worked with investigators in the University of Alabama at Birmingham Department of Psychiatry in the School of Medicine to administer the survey to psychiatric patients in university clinics. The most commonly-reported conditions of patients included mood disorders, anxiety disorders, psychotic disorders and substance abuse, according to the university press release.

Vars said patients chose between two options: volunteer their names for the list and remove them at-will, triggering an automatic seven-day waiting period to prevent impulse buys, or require a judicial hearing to get their names removed from the list. He said 46 percent agreed to put their names on the list and showed a preference for the first of the two removal options.

“This approach wouldn’t stop all suicides, but any dent we could make in the estimated 20,000 people who use a gun to commit suicide every year in the United States would be significant,” Vars said.

Dr. Richard Shelton, vice chair of research for the university’s Department of Psychiatry and a study co-author, said studies show suicide survivors “end up eventually dying of something other than suicide.”

“So a means of preventing someone from making future gun purchases during a suicidal crisis might reduce suicide rates,” he said.

Federal law prohibits those who have “been adjudicated as a mental defective or have been committed to any mental institution” from buying guns legally. However, inconsistent state reporting of mental health records leads to holes in the National Instant Criminal Background Check system gun dealers use to verify a buyer’s eligibility.

Dr. Karen Cropsey, an associate professor of psychiatry at the University of Alabama and a study co-author, said the Do Not Sell list could be “a new type of means restriction.”

“Waiting periods to purchase firearms have been shown to reduce gun suicide, most likely due to the impulsive nature of suicide attempts,” she said. “The Do Not Sell list is a new type of means restriction, and means restriction generally has been shown to be one of the most effective suicide prevention strategies.”

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