A new piece of legislation that would require firearms retailers to provide suicide prevention literature at point of sales was introduced in the Montgomery County Council Tuesday in Rockville.
“We’ve had enough thoughts and prayers. We need to act,” Council President Evan Glass (D-At-large), said while introducing the bill, called the Suicide Awareness and Firearm Education (SAFE) Act.
In Maryland, 42% of all suicides are committed with a firearm and suicides make up 36% of all firearm deaths in the state, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention,.
“The information that we will be providing them is life saving information,” Glass said. “All too often people are unaware of what their options are, and we want those options to be life and safety.”
The bill would require the Department of Health and Human Services to “develop literature about firearm safety, suicide prevention, and conflict resolution” and “require sellers of firearms or ammunition to display and distribute the literature at points of sale,” according to the draft legislation.
Any retailer that does not comply with the distribution regulation may be issued a civil citation. Retailers are not required to speak with customers about the information in the pamphlets. The county will pay for the pamphlets and there is no financial requirement of firearms retailers.
The bill is co-sponsored by Council Vice President Andrew Friedson (D-Dist. 1) and councilmembers Gabe Albornoz (D-At-large), Marilyn Balcombe (D-Dist. 2), Will Jawando (D-At-large), Sidney Katz (D-Dist. 3), Dawn Luedtke (D-Dist. 7), Laurie-Anne Sayles (D-At-large) and Kate Stewart (D-Dist. 4).
A similar law was enacted in Anne Arundel County last year. However, the legislation was challenged by a lawsuit in U.S. District Court challenging the law on First Amendment grounds. The suit was brought forth by Maryland Shall Issue, a nonprofit pro-Second Amendment and gun owners’ rights organization.
While a District Court judge ruled in the county’s favor, saying that the literature was a reasonable suicide prevention measure and not a violation of First Amendment rights. Maryland Shall Issue appealed the case, which now is scheduled for a December hearing before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit.
Mark Pennak, president of Maryland Shall Issue, said in an email to MoCo360 that the group’s position is that “such action is compelled speech under the First Amendment and is unconstitutional. If [Montgomery] County were sensible, it would wait for the outcome of that litigation before acting
.Glass said the county is prepared to take legal action if a similar challenge is brought forward.
“The judge has upheld [the Anne Arundel County legislation] … I am confident it will be upheld here as well. Here in Montgomery County, we are prepared to take all legal action to keep our residents safe from gun violence,” Glass said.
At a press conference held in the council conference room on Tuesday afternoon, representatives of several gun control and mental health advocacy groups voiced their support for the legislation.
“I have met countless other survivors and heard their stories. I’ve heard of stories of families who have lost their loved ones–moms, fathers aunts, uncles, sons, daughters–to gun suicide,” said Beata Stylianos, a survivor fellow with Everytown for Gun Safety, a nonprofit that advocates for gun violence prevention measures. Stylianos’ husband died by firearm suicide.
Stylianos shared the statistic from Everytown for Gun Safety research that 90% of suicide attempts involving a gun result in death.
Stephanie Rosen, executive director of the National Alliance on Mental Illness Montgomery County, said this type of legislation can serve as a partnership with firearms retailers to prevent suicide, as opposed to a penalty.
“Even people who sell firearms or ammunition, can be part of this really, really beautiful act of helping someone get help when they need it the most,” Rosen said. “When you’re in that headspace [of suicidal ideation], your brain is telling you the only way to feel better is death, and we all know that that’s not the reality … And so, every intervention to tell you [that] ‘your brain is wrong, you have options,’ we know prevents suicide.”
Balcombe cited her experience working at a suicide prevention hotline and crisis center as part of the reason she signed on to support the bill.
“We know that we can stop suicides by offering an alternative if a person decides to end their life with a firearm,” Balcombe said. “This legislation can offer a lifeline. Something as simple as a flier with resources, something as simple as the instruction and imperative to call 988 [mental health crisis hotline] can save a person’s life.”
A public hearing on the bill is scheduled for 1:30 p.m. on Oct. 10 during the council’s regular business meeting. There is no vote scheduled yet for the legislation.