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  • Writer's pictureKatrina Brees

We Have Bipartisan Support!

Bill to create Louisiana’s ‘do-not-sell’ gun self-registry gains bipartisan sponsors

Updated 7:39 AM; Posted Feb 12, 2:36 PM

A proposal to create a voluntary “do-not-sell” gun list for people in Louisiana who fear they are a threat to themselves or others has secured two sponsors and bipartisan support in advance of the legislative session. Rep. Jimmy Harris, D-New Orleans, has signed on as the bill’s primary sponsor while Sen. Danny Martiny, R-Metairie, has agreed to co-sponsor.

The legislators put their support behind “Donna’s Law” following discussions with Katrina Brees, whose mother and the bill’s namesake, Donna Nathan, used a gun in her suicide last year. Nathan, who struggled with bipolar disorder for 30 years, purchased a gun June 26 then, just hours later, drove to Audubon Park and shot herself while sitting underneath a tree. It was the first gun Nathan ever owned.

Brees, whose story was first reported as part of | The Times-Picayune’s “A Fragile State” series, believes her mother, if given a second chance, would have chosen a different path. But suicide is often a rash decision made in moments of intense hopelessness and despair. In a state with some of the least restrictive gun laws in the country, those moments are often armed, advocates say. Louisiana had 677 suicides in 2016. Of those, 440, or 65 percent, were by firearms.

“My mother took every legal avenue to protect herself from the times of crises that ultimately overtook her. But she did not have a mechanism to protect herself from buying a firearm,” Brees said. “That is why I am working with Harris and Martiny to empower my fellow Louisianians to be vigilant guardians against the threat of suicide.”

This is how Donna’s Law would work: People could choose, for any reason, to put their names on a do-not-sell list. Once they present photo identification proving their identity, their names would be entered into the National Instant Criminal Background System, which is used to identify people prohibited from buying guns from licensed dealers. Those on the list voluntarily could remove their names at any moment, but there would be a waiting period of anywhere between 7 to 21 days before they could once again purchase a gun.

As an added layer of security, people on the list could provide contact information for friends or loved ones they want the state to immediately notify should the person on the list ask to be removed from it.

Harris called his support of the bill a “no-brainer” because it gives people the right to not only save themselves but potentially others, while preserving their Second Amendment rights.

“I think it will pass because I have colleagues in the House and Senate who value the lives of their constituents and families more than anything,” Harris said. “Unfortunately, it’s a reality that everyone knows someone that may have a mental health illness, but legislation like this puts the city of New Orleans and the state of Louisiana in a better position to help.”

Martiny echoed Harris’ sentiments, saying it didn’t take much to convince him to lend his support.

“If someone thinks they have a problem and want to opt out, they can. I don’t think we’re infringing on anyone’s rights,” Martiny said. “I can’t imagine anyone would be opposed to it.”

There are many ways people attempt to kill themselves, but nothing is as brutally efficient as a gun. Nearly 90 percent of suicide attempts with firearms are fatal, compared to 3 percent or less for other methods such as prescription overdosing or wrist-cutting, according to the Brady Campaign, a national group that advocates for gun control laws to reduce violent deaths.

Washington last year became the first state to pass legislation creating a voluntary do-not-sell gun list similar to Donna’s Law, which went into effect this Jan. 1. Similar legislation has been introduced this year in Massachusetts and Oregon, and it’s being considered in Alabama.

The NRA declined to comment on Donna’s Law, but hasn’t opposed the concept when presented elsewhere. The main objection raised by the NRA during the Washington process was that people could be coerced into signing up for the registry during a legal proceeding, or as a condition of employment or obtaining services. So, proponents added language to the law making such coercion illegal.

Louisiana’s legislative session begins April 8 and ends June 6. Last year there were approximately 30 gun-related bills proposed, though most failed to go anywhere, including proposals for a 10-day waiting period to purchase guns, a bump stock ban, an assault weapons age limit and the inclusion of ammunition purchases in background checks.

“Our state has one of the highest rates of gun suicide in the country and we know that the presence of guns increases the risk and lethality of suicide attempts,” said Victoria Coy, founder and director of the Louisiana Violence Reduction Coalition, who has partnered with Brees on the effort. “This bill allows people in a time of crisis, or those who may face a time of crisis, to be proactive in their own defense.”

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