Washington this year became the first state to put a voluntary “do not sell” law into effect for mentally ill people. The idea was conceived by University of Alabama law Prof. Fredrick Vars, who has dealt with depression since he was a teenager. He was diagnosed with bipolar disorder at the age of 31 and at times has contemplated suicide. People who’ve experienced periods of depression and suicidal thinking should be able to remove guns from the equation, he believes. With Yale law Prof. Ian Ayres, he proposed a system for them to suspend their own ability to purchase a firearm until they feel better. Vars and Ayres draw parallels to the “no gambling” lists that exist in many states, through which gambling addicts can ban themselves from entering casinos for a period of years, or for life, The Trace reports.
Similar legislation has been introduced in eight other states. The process of banning yourself from guns in Washington state is fairly simple. It starts with a person filling out a short form and presenting it, along with identification, at any county clerk’s office. After verifying the person’s ID, the clerk mails the document to the Washington State Patrol, which has 24 hours to enter it into the federal background check system, as well as the state’s crime database. If that person were to then try to impulsively buy a gun anyway, he or she would be denied. Between 2014 and 2017, Washington had more than 3,500 firearms deaths, three-fourths of which were suicides. Research indicates that many suicide attempts are made in moments of grave distress, often following mere hours — even minutes — of deliberation. Five months after the Washington policy was implemented, just three people have used it to suspend their gun rights.