Lawmakers repel effort to keep guns away from suicidal or potentially dangerous people
Two proposals brought by Rep. Linda Duba, a Democrat from Sioux Falls, sought to address climbing rates of suicide deaths by firearm in South Dakota, which have outpaced the national increase.
PIERRE, S.D. — Two attempts to curb the rate of gun deaths in South Dakota, especially in the context of accidental discharges and suicides, were unanimously struck down by the House Judiciary committee on Monday, Feb. 13.
Both proposals were brought by Rep. Linda Duba, a Democrat from Sioux Falls.
“We need to address the crisis in this state surrounding individuals who have access to firearms, and who could commit harm to themselves or others,” Duba told Forum News Service after both unsuccessful votes.
The first proposal, House Bill 1213, seeks to incentivize gun owners to better store and lock their weapons in order to keep them away from minors.
The gun owner would be subject to a Class 6 felony if a minor obtains the weapon and uses it in committing a crime, provided that the owner “knowingly gives, loans, or sells” the firearm to the minor or “stores the firearm without utilizing a locked container or a trigger lock.” An exception is made in the case that the weapon was obtained by the minor in an illegal manner.
One criticism of the bill was that part of its intent, which holds a gun owner liable for transferring a firearm to a minor who commits a crime, is already covered by state statute, although the current law requires that the gun owner “knows or reasonably believes” that the minor will use the weapon in committing a crime.
House Bill 1227 is a “red-flag” law, which would allow a circuit court to consider whether the target of an extreme risk protection order is “likely to cause injury or death to the [themselves] or others, by having a firearm and compatible ammunition in [their] possession, custody, or control.”
A ruling in favor of the protection order would require the confiscation of their guns and ammunition for a period of up to one year and a referral to a mental health evaluation.
Similar laws exist in several states, including Florida, Indiana and North Carolina, where Duba said they have been effective in curbing rates of suicide by firearm.
Duba framed both proposals as tools to help address the mental health crisis in the state, which can be exacerbated by access to firearms, whether someone owns those firearms or lives with someone whose firearms are not securely stored. She noted that the use of firearms in suicides in South Dakota has climbed at a rate outpacing the national average.
According to the state Department of Health, deaths by suicide increased by 50% from 2012 to 2021, compared to just under a 10% increase over the same period nationwide.
Firearms are the most commonly used method of suicide both in the state and nationwide.
“You've heard the documentation of the increase of minors getting involved in these incidents, mostly suicides,” Dean Krogman, the vice president of governmental relations with the South Dakota State Medical Association, said. “I would encourage, too, for you to be proactive in terms of what may happen because of everything going around the country. That is a trend and we're not immune to those trends.”
In criticizing the extreme risk protection order, opponents expressed concern that the process for the extreme risk protection order has not been fleshed out yet, though Duba’s proposal delays implementation until 2025 to allow the Unified Judicial System in the state to promulgate rules.
Other concerns from opponents included one avenue in the bill that would allow for a person’s access to a firearm to be taken away without any involvement in the process by the accused.
Brian Gosch, a registered lobbyist with the National Rifle Association, also argued that the legislation singles out firearms despite the potential for several different avenues available for someone to die by suicide.
“They're only confiscating firearms,” he said. “They're not confiscating any other dangerous objects that an individual could use to inflict harm on himself or others. There's no taking of knives, vehicles, ropes, explosives or poisons.”
Jason Harward is a Report for America corps reporter who writes about state politics in South Dakota. Contact him at 605-301-0496 or firstname.lastname@example.org.