New Colorado gun control law could help prevent suicides

Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper signs gun control measures in his office at the state capitol, March, 20, 2013, in Denver. The bills require background checks for private and online gun sales and ban ammunition magazines that hold more than 15 rounds. AP Photo

When Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper signed into law sweeping new restrictions on firearms this week, he cited the prevention of suicides by handgun as one of the reasons he supported the legislation.

"However many homicides we have each year with handguns, we have about 20 percent more suicides," he said. "That number drops significantly when you have universal background checks."

The new law in Colorado expands the requirement for background checks to private and online gun sales. Previously, only licensed firearm dealers were required to run a background check. Now, nearly all firearm purchasers will have to undergo a background check, and experts in suicide prevention say adding that extra layer to the process could save lives.

"If you can make it difficult at that moment when they are serious about taking their lives, you get that chance to intervene," said Robert Gebbia, executive director of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.

"Getting time is very important," Gebbia said.

Under the Colorado law, which takes effect on July 1, private gun sellers would go through a licensed firearm dealer to complete the background check. The dealers rely on the Colorado Bureau of Investigation to complete the check, which CBI aims to complete in 20 minutes.

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  • Most Americans who take their own lives use a firearm. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, of the more than 38,000 suicides in the U.S. every year, just over half are gun-related. Suicide is the tenth leading cause of death in the country.

    And both nationally and in Colorado, handgun deaths are far more likely to be suicides than homicides.

    The CDC lists "easy access to lethal methods" as a leading risk factor for suicide, and guns are the most lethal method for suicide.

    Gebbia likens the extra step built into a firearm purchase by a background check to suicide barriers on bridges.

    "When they actually go to make an attempt, at that point they're intent on dying," he said. "They may change their mind, it does happen. Those feelings are often very impulsive and fleeting."

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