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  • Writer's pictureKatrina Brees

Louisiana needs a no-sell gun registry for suicide prevention

Katrina Brees got disappointing news Wednesday when the Legislature put off action on Donna’s Law, legislation named in honor of her mother that would set up a voluntary do-not-sell gun list for suicide prevention.

Legislators took the bill off the table until 2020 because of concerns about the cost and potential opposition by the NRA to having an online registry.

Ms. Brees described the experience on Facebook afterward. “Our bill has been deferred until next year when it will have a stronger chance at being passed in a manner that maintains its potential effectiveness for suicide prevention,” she said. There were rows of men wearing NRA T-shirts who had turned in red cards in opposition at the hearing for the bill, she said.

But she still has a positive outlook. Afterward, she said one of the men told her, “Let’s find a way to work together.”

Donna’s Law could make all the difference for families across Louisiana.

There were 677 suicides in 2016 in Louisiana, and 440 of them were by firearms. The gun can be bought and use the same day. There is no waiting period in Louisiana.

Suicide is often an impulsive decision, so being on a registry like this one could be the thing that stops someone.

People with a mental illness can be refused the right to buy a gun in Louisiana, but only if a judge has ordered them to be involuntarily committed for treatment. Donna Nathan had committed herself voluntarily, so there was nothing to prevent her from buying the gun the day she died.

Donna’s Law would require State Police to set up a registration process for anyone who wants to put themselves on a do-not-sell list in Louisiana. You could take yourself off the list after a 21-day waiting period, which is in place to prevent people from acting rashly.

Being able to sign up electronically is important. University of Alabama law professor Fredrick Vars, who came up with the idea of a voluntary “do-not-sell” gun list, said an electronic system would give people more privacy. “We’d get a lot more people signing up if we made it easy and something they could do at home,” he said.

In Washington, which is the only state so far to establish a no-sell registry, people have to show up in person to be added to the list. A statewide electronic system would have extra costs, including a one-time expense of $357,000 to set it up and nearly $200,000 per year in ongoing costs, according to an estimate done for the Louisiana Legislature.

That is not an insignificant amount. But it is a small cost for something that could save lives.

Donna Nathan, who had been in and out of psychiatric hospitals three times in 2018, was able to buy a .38-caliber revolver the day she died. Eight hours after she bought the gun, she was found dead from a gunshot wound in Audubon Park.

Ms. Brees is trying to keep other families from suffering that kind of loss. She initially told her mother’s story to | Times-Picayune reporter Richard Webster last year as part of our “Fragile State” project examining the failings of Louisiana’s mental health system.

She believes her mother would have put herself on a no-sell registry, if she could have. And, despite the setback Wednesday, she is committed to continuing to push for it.

“We will have won this fight by ending the fighting,” she wrote after the hearing. There will be a delay, but Louisiana should put Donna’s Law in place.

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