Red flag law helps combat gun-related suicides in Indiana

Red flag law helps combat gun-related suicides in Indiana
Suicide warning signs to look out for include a change in mood or behavior and a sense of hopelessness. (Source: WAVE 3 News)
Once the red flag was implemented, Indiana saw a 7.5 percent decrease in gun-related suicide deaths. (Source: WAVE 3 News)
Once the red flag was implemented, Indiana saw a 7.5 percent decrease in gun-related suicide deaths. (Source: WAVE 3 News)

JEFFERSONVILLE, IN (WAVE) - The deaths of Anthony Bourdain and designer Kate Spade this week have brought suicide back to the minds of many.

The cause of death has increased 25 percent over the last 15 years, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported.

In Kentucky, suicide deaths have increased 36 percent over the last 15 years. In Indiana that number is nearly 32 percent. The CDC also reported that firearms are the leading method in people both with and without known mental health conditions.

An Indiana law called the "Red Flag" law, or "the Jake Laird law," has helped bring the number of gun-related deaths down in Indiana. The law was named after the Indianapolis Police officer shot and killed by Kenneth Anderson, a man dealing with a mental illness, in 2004.

Anderson had his guns taken during an emergency detention for his mental health, those weapons later returned.

Now, the law allows law enforcement to temporarily seize guns for people considered a threat to themselves or others.

Inside the Clark County courthouse, Clark County Prosecutor Jeremy Mull prosecutes crimes. But he Red Flag law allows him to prevent them in some cases.

"We took the guns from an individual who had threatened to murder people who worked in a local factory," Mull said. "Many of those workers were concerned. And we were able to divest him of several assault weapons."

They use the red flag law law to temporarily seize weapons from those reported to be a danger to themselves or others. And it works.

"This law does protect the people who are vulnerable because of depression or mental illness at that point in their lives," Mull said.

A recent study found 10 years after the law was implemented, Indiana saw a 7.5 percent decrease in gun-related suicide deaths. Guns have been the leading method for suicides in the U.S., according to the CDC. Clinical Psychiatrist and Associate Director at the UofL Depression Clinic, Dr. Stephen O'Connor, said that needs to be addressed to slow suicide rates down.

"How do you support folks in such a way that they want to agree with safe storage practices that don't infringe upon their rights but help keep them alive and prevent something really tragic from happening in an impulsive moment," O'Connor said.

Decreasing suicide rates further will come from better screenings, expanding resources and access to health care, O'Connor said, and from recognizing and reporting warning signs of suicidal behavior to help prevent it.

"If they start to wrap up loose ends, talking about giving away things, shoring up their will, that's a clear sign someone's thinking about potential death," O'Connor said.

Other warning signs to look out for include a change in mood or behavior, withdrawing from activities people normally enjoy, a sense of hopelessness and becoming more quiet or reclusive.

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Mull said the law makes a real difference with stopping suicide and other tragedies.

"This law has saved lives in Clark County," Mull said. "And we do utilize it frequently. And I can confidently say that it will save more lives in the future."

Indiana is one of six states in the U.S. with the red flag law. Florida became the sixth state after lawmakers passed the bill following the Parkland school shooting.

If you or someone you know is dealing with thoughts of suicide or mental illness, there is help out there. Call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline 24 hours a day at 1-800-273-8255. Trained professionals will answer the phone and are able to speak with those experiencing suicidal behavior. Find help online here.

Local resources can be found through Centerstone and the UofL Depression Center. For more information about crisis resources near you, or for a recommendation about local mental health counselors and services, contact your primary physician.

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