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Special Communication
Firearm Violence
January 2017

Temporary Transfer of Firearms From the Home to Prevent Suicide: Legal Obstacles and Recommendations

Author Affiliations
  • 1Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Policy and Research, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, Baltimore, Maryland
  • 2University of Colorado School of Medicine, Aurora
  • 3Colorado School of Public Health, Aurora
JAMA Intern Med. 2017;177(1):96-101. doi:10.1001/jamainternmed.2016.5704

The presence of firearms in the home increases the risk of suicide for residents. As a result, clinicians and professional organizations recommend counseling about temporary removal of firearms from the home of potentially suicidal individuals. In some states, however, firearm laws may affect the ability to easily transfer a gun temporarily to reduce suicide risk. In particular, universal background check (UBC) laws—which require a background check whenever a gun is transferred, even by non–gun dealers—may also apply to temporary transfers intended to reduce suicide risk. Clinicians have previously reported that confusion regarding state firearm laws and uncertainty over the legality of a temporary transfer have affected their ability to effectively counsel patients. We summarize the laws of all 50 states and specifically examine the relevant firearm laws of 3 representative states with UBCs and different approaches—Maryland, Colorado, and California. We identify both helpful and problematic aspects of state laws regarding temporary transfer of firearms. We provide recommendations for amending UBC laws to make it easier for clinicians and patients to temporarily transfer firearms.

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