We agree with members of Oregon’s Legislature who want to reduce the state’s suicide rate. Indeed, does anybody not share that goal?
But we disagree that a law — and in particular the constitutionally shaky bill that the Oregon Senate approved this week — is likely to accomplish, in any meaningful way, this noble objective. Senate Bill 719 passed by a 17-11 vote and is now under consideration in the House.
The bill would require people whom a judge deems to be at risk of suicide or of harming another person to surrender all their guns or other potentially deadly weapons to police, a gun dealer or potentially a third party.
The law would apply only if a judge approved what the bill calls an “extreme risk protection order.” A police officer, spouse, parent, child or sibling, or anyone living with the allegedly suicidal person could petition the court for such an order. If it’s approved, the person would have 24 hours to surrender guns and other weapons.
Subjects of such an order could appeal, but the order would remain in effect until the appeal was decided. The order otherwise would be in effect for one year.
Besides its potential conflicts with the Second Amendment, our main concern with the bill is that it focuses solely on the means by which a person might harm himself or others, but has nothing to do with the person’s motivations. And we’re not convinced that those motivations can be addressed through legislation. Not every societal problem can be fixed with a law.
The Legislature can, and should, ensure that the state has a robust and accessible system available for people who seek help with severe emotional problems. But we don’t believe that Senate Bill 719, which treats distraught people as though they were criminals, constitutes that sort of help.
Moreover, relatives and friends need no law to compel them to help people they’re worried about. That’s why people take the car keys from loved ones who have been drinking.