Today, on Veterans Day, we honor those who risked their lives to defend America and our values. So it’s extremely troubling to know that more than 6,000 veterans die by suicide each year, nearly twice the number of soldiers who were killed in action during the entire seven-year long Iraq war.
To truly honor our veterans, we must address the issue of gun suicide. Nearly 70 percent of veteran suicides are by firearm, a rate 44 percent higher than non-veterans.
Because gun ownership among veterans is high, and firearms are the means of choice, preventing access to guns by veterans at risk of suicide will save lives. While individuals with suicidal intent may substitute another method, virtually all other methods are far less lethal than firearms.
Sometimes individuals at risk of suicide can be persuaded to voluntarily relinquish their firearms, but not always. Fortunately in Connecticut (and 18 other states plus D.C.), extreme risk protection orders (ERPO) serve as an alternative for removing guns from those at risk of imminent harm to self (or others).
ERPOs save lives. In Connecticut, the firearm suicide rate fell 14 percent between 2007 and 2015, corresponding to increased use of ERPO. It’s estimated that one suicide is averted for every 10 to 20 “risk warrants” issued.
If you suspect someone with access to firearms may be at risk of suicide, contact your local police department and explain the situation. They will conduct an investigation and if they confirm the risk, they’ll obtain a warrant to immediately remove the individual’s firearms. Within 14 days a hearing will be held to offer the subject the opportunity to challenge the order. If the risk continues, the order can be extended for up to one year.
As we did this year, in the 2021 legislative session CAGV will again push for measures that strengthen our risk protection law to better protect veterans, gun owners and others from the risk of firearm suicide that in Connecticut accounts for two-thirds of gun deaths.
In the meantime, we must get the word out about ERPO. Honoring our veterans demands no less.
Jonathan Perloe is Communications Director for CT Against Gun Violence.