Suicides are rising across the U.S.
Prior to the beginning of the most recent session of the Kansas Legislature, a constituent and friend asked me to help create a bill that would protect individuals with suicidal ideation from committing self-harm.
This constituent had friend who had suffered from suicidal thoughts for many years and had made unsuccessful attempts throughout the years. She had sought treatment on many occasions. And unfortunately, during a time of acute mental health crises, she was able to purchase a firearm, which she used to commit suicide.
Had her friend been able to restrict her own access to the purchase of a weapon by placing a protective order on herself, she could have prevented the purchase of that firearm during her most critical time of need.
If introduced into law, HB 2234, the Voluntary Gun Safe Act that I introduced, would allow individuals to place a protective order on themselves, restricting their ability to purchase a weapon of their own volition, to protect themselves when destructive thought patterns take over.
This type of law is referred to as a “red flag” law, because it red flags an individual from purchasing a weapon.
Preventing suicide is a top priority for Johnson County, whose mental health center has been sounding the alarm that the county is in the midst of a suicide epidemic. Several local students have died from suicide in recent years, leading the six Johnson County school districts to create and promote their #zeroreasonswhy campaign. The campaign seeks to end the stigma of the conversation surrounding mental health, to encourage those in need of mental health care to access available resources, and to combine efforts to improve preventative guardrails.
In light of all this, it was disappointing to learn that a local legislative leader recently answered a question regarding red flag laws at the Greater KC Chamber of Commerce luncheon with the response that suicide is the ultimate sin — pinning a private moral analysis to a public health crises.
Individuals grappling with suicidal ideation need health care services and appropriate systemic support, including therapy, medication, and, yes, restrictions on access to guns, because guns greatly increase the mortality rate in suicide attempts.
Several policies that have been blocked by Republican legislative leadership over the last many years would have helped curb this epidemic: expanding Medicaid, increasing resources to county mental health services, funding social workers for public schools, and allowing individuals with mental health needs to willingly place protective orders against themselves to prevent them from gaining access to a deadly weapon in a time of crisis.
We have the tools to lower suicide rates in our communities, and the first step is to make sure our conversation centers on the public health concerns and not private ideology, so that we can implement the positive policy changes necessary to protect young people.
If you are in crisis, you can reach Johnson County Emergency Services Line at 913- 268-0156 to get the help you need.
Jarrod Ousley represents District 24 in the Kansas House of Representatives.