Waiting Periods Can Help Stop Suicides. Here’s How.
“He just needed a little bit more time.”
On December 6, 2018, at 11:02 in the morning, Andrew Black walked into a Vermont gun shop. At 11:30 he walked out with a newly purchased handgun. Before the sun went down that day, Andrew had killed himself using this handgun. He was 23 years old.
Andrew’s story, as heartbreaking as it is, isn’t uncommon. Over two-thirds of all gun deaths in the US are suicides, which translates to more than 21,000 deaths each year. After Andrew’s death, Andrew’s father Rob said his son “just needed a little bit more time.”
Mandatory waiting periods between when an individual purchases a firearm and when he or she takes possession of the firearm create an important window that allows purchasers to get help during a time of crisis. This window, a handful of hours, can make a difference between life or death.
Suicides are not inevitable.
Even as suicide rates have risen year after year, a culture of silence and stigma has kept our country from confronting this deadly epidemic. As a result, many people falsely believe that suicides are anomalies and that we are powerless to prevent them. In truth, suicide is neither rare nor inevitable.
A staggering number of American families have lost a loved one to suicide. Since 2004, over half a million American men, women, and children have taken their own lives.
But the simple, hopeful truth is that suicide is preventable.
Suicide attempts are usually impulsive responses to an acute crisis. People who reach for guns in these moments of crisis are unlikely to survive. Most people who attempt suicide without a gun survive in both the short and long term—90% of survivors do not go on to die by suicide. But those who reach for a gun rarely have a second chance.
The difference a gun makes.
Guns are used in only 5% of suicide attempts, but account for over 50% of suicide deaths.
Guns are by far the most lethal means of suicide. Approximately 85% of suicide attempts with a firearm result in death —more than triple the rate of other common means. This is why states with immediate, unrestricted access to guns have much higher suicide rates.
Firearm suicide attempts are unlikely to give individuals in crisis a second chance. By addressing how easy it is to obtain guns during these moments of crisis, we can prevent suicides and save lives.
Waiting periods create time to think. But states need to act.
Andrew’s story is a tragic reminder of how quickly a momentary crisis can become an irreversible tragedy.
Waiting periods add a critical cooling off period for someone in a crisis. They provide a window to get help, or for loved ones to intervene. Studies show that states with waiting periods for handgun purchases see up to 11% to 27% fewer suicides overall than states without similar laws.
The suicide rate in Vermont is 35% higher than the national average, with guns accounting for 59% of these deaths. By passing a waiting period law, Vermont state senators have taken decisive action to save lives in their state.
Currently, only nine states and the District of Columbia have waiting periods that apply to the purchase of some or all firearms. More states should act to help reduce the devastating toll of suicide.
As Andrew’s dad said, “a little bit more time” can make all the difference. We don’t have a second to lose.
You are not alone. If you or a loved one is considering suicide, please call the free and confidential National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255
- Press Release: Giffords Commends Vermont Senate for Passing Legislation that Seeks to Reduce Firearms Suicide Deaths
- Press Release: Giffords Applauds Vermont Senate Judiciary Committee for Approving Legislation that Seeks to Reduce Firearms Suicide Deaths
- Press Release: Giffords Law Center Leads Vermont Roundtable with Local Leaders to Detail How the State Can Reduce the Number of Gun Suicides
- Report: Confronting the Inevitability Myth: How Data-Driven Gun Policies Save Lives from Suicide
- Giffords Law Center Page: Waiting Periods