Rep. Robert Farris-Olsen

Rep. Robert Farris-Olsen (D-Helena)

I have dedicated much of my career to making Montana a better place, first as Helena City Commissioner, and now as the state representative from Helena. Nothing is more important to me than protecting Montanans, and the suicide crisis in our state and in our country has left me concerned, looking for ways to take action.

Suicide rates are climbing across the country, and our state has the highest rate of suicide – more than twice the national average. On average, one Montana resident dies by firearm suicide every 52 hours, and Montanans are 6.5 times more likely to die by firearm suicide than by firearm homicide.

As I see it – as a father and gun-owner – the most important way we can work to bring down the firearm suicide rate here in Montana is to pass a law that would help families and law enforcement intervene in times of crisis. Tragic acts of gun violence, including gun suicides, are often preceded by warning signs that a person is a danger to themselves and others. A Red Flag law would empower family members and law enforcement — the people most likely to spot these warning signs — to act on these red flags before they turn into tragedy.

Here is how it would work: When family members or law enforcement detect threats of violence or dangerous behavior, they would be able to petition a court to seek a year-long Extreme Risk Protection Order, which would remove guns from a person in crisis. Before the final protection order may be issued, there would be a full legal hearing for all parties involved. If a court finds the person does indeed pose a significant risk of injuring themselves or others with a firearm, that person would be temporarily prohibited from purchasing and possessing guns.

Reducing access to firearms for a person in crisis can save lives. Red Flag laws are a powerful crisis intervention tool when someone might pose a risk to themselves or to others.

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Easy access to a gun triples the risk of death by suicide. Of the most commonly used methods of self-harm, firearms are by far the most lethal, with a fatality rate of approximately 85 percent. Conversely, less than 5 percent of people who attempt suicide using other methods will die.

What’s clear here is that we must do more to disrupt firearm access in moments of crisis.

Fourteen states have already created a way to do this by enacting Red Flag laws. And lives are already being saved. Last year, a study found that Red Flag laws in Indiana and Connecticut were associated with decreases in the firearm suicide rate in both states. In the first decade after enactment, Indiana’s firearm suicide rate decreased by 7.5 percent. Connecticut also saw a 14 percent drop in the firearm suicide rate over the eight years following the 2007 Virginia Tech shooting, in which the state tightened enforcement of their Red Flag law.

It is long past time for Montanans to come together toward a common purpose: keeping our families safe by preventing gun suicides. That’s why I introduced HB718. I hope you will ask your representatives to join me in supporting this common-sense legislation to save lives.

Rep. Rob Farris-Olsen, D-Helena, represents House District 79 in the Montana Legislature. 

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