Ledes from the Land of Enchantment

The success of a new waiting period for gun purchases may depend on existing and future laws • Source New Mexico

Geoff Harms lives just north of Los Angeles and grew up not far from here. When he was a kid, he made friends with the new kid, Dan Flock, who came just before him in the alphabetic class list. Dan eventually moved out to New Mexico as a young adult.

“Over the course of my life, we’ve been flying, driving back and forth to each other’s place,” Geoff said.

He was practically a member of the family as Dan got married and raised his kids. Then in 2020, Dan’s health began to decline.

“It was a really, really bad year,” Geoff said.

He said Dan, who was a carpenter, had multiple strokes and heart attacks.

“His craft kinda got lost because he couldn’t remember a lot of things,” he said.

Geoff and another friend made plans to bring Dan out to L.A. and become his caretakers.

“He didn’t want to be a burden,” Geoff said. “I would always say don’t worry about being a burden. We have you. We’ll take care of you.”

But then Geoff received news that Dan had died by suicide the night before he was planning to move.

“He exuded beauty,” Geoff said. “I don’t know if that sounds strange, but he was just an extremely nice person.”

Several people close to Dan say that they believe he bought the gun he used just before he passed, although he had owned guns in the past.

Geoff said it is hard to know what effect a waiting period law would’ve had.

“The law may have saved him, but he had an expiration date, which was sad,” he said, “So, I don’t know. It’s that one I’ve had a hard time with.”

Experts and lawmakers also grapple with that question.

New Mexico had the third highest rate of gun deaths and fourth highest of suicides in 2021, the year when Dan Flock passed, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Going into this year’s legislative session, Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham called on state lawmakers to enact more policies to bring those numbers down.

“This is the most important work we’re gonna do,” she said in her State of the State address. “Because all the other stuff – the jobs, the futures, the homes, the education – meaningless, if we can’t keep New Mexicans safe.”

Legislators introduced many bills in response, but only two made it to the governor’s desk. One banned firearms at polling places, and the other created the weeklong waiting period for firearm purchases.

Democratic Rep. Andrea Romero sponsored the waiting period law, which goes into effect May 15th, and said it could help curb multiple problems.

“Not only is it that cooling off period for harm to self, but also harm to others,” she said.

It also allows more time for the federal government to conduct the background check required by state law.

Detractors of the new waiting period law, like Rep. Cathrynn Brown (R-Carlsbad), say people need guns for protection.

“When you’re being abused or you’re being threatened, you need some means of self-defense,” she said.

Several studies over the last few decades have shown that having a gun at home rarely prevents violence, but it does increase the risk of accidental deaths and suicides.

Brown also said that in a state where about half of all households already have a gun, this won’t change much, and she sees a lack of data regarding waiting period laws.

Rosanna Smart, co-director of RAND’s Gun Policy in America Initiative, said the data is there, but it’s complicated.

“We have fairly moderate evidence to support that waiting period laws or kind of imposing waiting period requirements on handguns or on firearms more broadly can reduce firearm suicides as well as reduce total homicides,” she said.

The United States collects thorough data on deaths, but not so much on gun ownership and crime.

“It really actually plays into a lot of a broader scientific literature on suicide and reducing access to lethal means,” Smart said.

Guns are also much more lethal than other methods of suicide: about 90% of attempts with a gun are fatal. Only about 4% of attempts using other methods end in death. Over 60% of gun deaths in the U.S. are suicides, according to Everytown for Gun Safety.

KFF also found that states with fewer firearm restrictions tend to have higher suicide rates.

Smart said while there is enough evidence to say waiting period laws are worthwhile, there needs to be more research.

“It may mean that waiting period laws and their efficacy kind of depend on other aspects of the firearm law environment in a given state where it’s implemented,” she said.

She said background check laws, for example, give heft to waiting period laws.

Miranda Viscoli, co-founder of New Mexicans to Prevent Gun Violence, said New Mexico needs a wide range of laws that work together to chip away at the state’s high rate of gun deaths.

“Some laws are going to address suicide. Some laws are going to address domestic violence. Some laws are going to address making sure that guns don’t get into the wrong hands,” she said.

And because New Mexico’s lawmakers are only in session one or two months out of the year, that might take a while.

If you or someone you know may be considering suicide, call the suicide and crisis prevention hotline at 988.

This coverage is made possible by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation and KUNM listeners.

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