“You may shoot me with your words, you may cut me with your eyes, you may kill me with your hatefulness, but still, like air, I’ll rise.”
The words of Maya Angelou will resonate forever with Dassi Kaplin, a 14-year-old Staten Island native. Dassi has been through the worst situations life could possibly throw at her, leading to a suicide attempt at a young age. On June 12th, 2018, Dassi recounted her experience at National Die-In Day in New York City, held next to the United Nations. Dassi, a model of strength and perseverance, told the large crowd gathered that if she had access to a gun the day of her suicide attempt, she would have used it. And she likely wouldn’t have survived.
Attending that event, I found myself in a state of awe at the courage of this radiant young girl standing up for what she believes in. Since our first encounter, Dassi has been advocating for the implementation of extreme risk protection orders in New York and other states in order to save lives by preventing those intent on killing themselves from having a gun.
In a country plagued by both suicide and gun violence, extreme risk protection orders are the best option for dealing with these issues, at least in the short term.
Extreme risk protection orders (ERPOs) allow for the temporary removal of an individual’s guns if the individual poses a threat to themselves or others. These orders are filed by family members or law enforcement officers who have testified that they have observed worrisome actions from the person in question. If a mother, a father, a sister, or a brother sees someone in their family showing signs of suicidal ideation and know that person has access to a gun, they can intervene and save a life.
Every day, 123 people take their own lives in America. Firearms were used in fifty-one percent of those deaths, immensely surpassing the rates of suicide death by suffocation and poisoning, which make up 25.9% and 14.9% respectively. Not only do firearm deaths account for the majority of suicides, they also make up two-thirds of all gun-related deaths, claiming an average of 59 lives a day. Guns are an especially deadly means of attempting suicide, with an 85% fatality rate.
Extreme risk protection orders and other similar laws have been proven to work in the states that have enacted them.
Indiana experienced a 7.5% decrease in the number of suicides after their risk-based gun seizure laws had been in effect for 10 years, with the overall suicide rate in Indiana decreasing steadily alongside it. Under Connecticut’s law, for every 10 to 20 guns that were seized, one suicide was prevented. In addition, Connecticut’s firearm suicide rate decreased by 13.7% after their original 1999 law was heavily enforced following the Virginia Tech massacre.
Unfortunately, the majority of extreme risk protection orders today were only implemented within the past few months or years, leaving a lack of identifiable trends as obvious as those in Indiana and Connecticut. However, the strong evidence from these two states indicates the immense benefits of extreme risk protection orders.
In a nation divided over the notion of guns, extreme risk protection orders are scrutinized in every aspect.
The main argument against these laws is that if someone is exhibiting signs of suicidal tendencies, they should automatically be put into the mental health system, whether that be a hospital or therapy; their guns should not be temporarily taken away from them. While the reasoning behind the concept is understandable, the actual execution of such a policy is impossible with our current healthcare system. Not only are there restrictions on the involuntary treatment of adults, backed up by multiple court cases throughout the decades, the bottom line is that America’s mental health system is horrendous.
Take it from Dassi. As someone who has been through the flawed system, she has witnessed firsthand the lack of funding for mental health institutions that provide care, which results in less effective treatment for patients. Just to receive an adequate session of care can cost upwards of $200, with insurance companies barely reimbursing the medical visits. Insufficient treatment, or even just a single session of exceptional treatment, often results in an unaffected state of health.
Mental health issues cannot be solved as if they were a simple addition problem; it takes time and grueling work. Having someone stay in a hospital for a week and medicating them does not eliminate the risk of them being a danger to themselves when a gun is waiting for them at home.
The only way for our country to implement extreme risk protection orders into law is if we speak up in support of it. Express your opinions online, in your community, and with your peers. Demonstrate to those who have power that you want change and you want it now.
Do it for your family. Do it for your friends. Do it for Dassi.