In a new law journal article, University of Alabama Law Professor Frederick Vars lays out an innovative proposal to reduce firearm-related suicides by people with severe mental illness or who are otherwise contemplating ending their lives.
Under the proposed system, individuals would have the option of submitting a form to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System, authorizing firearm dealers to bar them from purchasing firearms at a later time. People would have the option of later having their names removed from this list, after a seven-day waiting period.
As detailed by Vars in the article, studies have demonstrated that many, and perhaps most, suicides are “impulsive, not deliberative.” Therefore, as Vars sees it, restricting firearm access through this proposed system, which he calls “Precommitment Against Suicide,” would create a precautionary measure to prevent people from later acting on suicidal thoughts.
“A seven-day waiting period helps to ensure that a decision to commit firearm suicide reflects a weighing of costs and benefits, not impulse,” Vars wrote in the article. “Because suicide cannot be undone, even impaired agents ought to be able to opt for a period of reflection.”
Vars analogizes the proposed system to that of advanced health care directives, which allow people to make preliminary decisions about their health care in the event that they become incapacitated. He also compares the proposed system to existing self-exclusion programs in various states for addictive gamblers.
Even under recent Supreme Court jurisprudence expanding the Second Amendment right to bear arms, Vars argues that the program would survive even the highest level of judicial scrutiny, that of strict scrutiny.
“PAS would not run afoul of the Constitution,” Vars wrote. “People who believe that they are at high risk of suicide would restrict their own access to guns. This is narrowly tailored to the compelling government interest in preventing suicide.”
Vars has written extensively in the past about Second Amendment rights of people with mental illness. In a prior journal article, Vars argued that blanket restrictions on gun ownership for people with mental illness violate the Constitution, although he also argued that certain restrictions could be justified on the basis of suicide prevention.