Letters to legislators: Suicides not prevented by firearm purchase with waiting period

Editor’s note: This is part of TNR’s Letters to Legislators Series.

Dear Senator Sears,

Psychologists and psychiatrists assess whether a person is suicidal, a danger to themselves, based on whether the person has a detailed plan to kill themselves and the means with which to accomplish it. Neither, by itself, is sufficient. The person is questioned in depth. Saying they’re going to shoot themselves is not an indicator of suicidal risk, unless their plan includes, for example, the particular firearm they’re planning to use; where, when and how they’re planning to use it, alone or with others; and have they discussed their plan with anyone. They must also have means: access to a firearm, a combination to a safe, access to ammunition, money to purchase a firearm and/or ammunition, etc. Secondary gain is also assessed, who else will be affected by the suicide, who will be harmed, what statement is being made, what message is being sent, if any.

Public domain

Jeffrey Kaufman, M.D.: “The proposed waiting period legislation will impact only law abiding Vermonters and would not be expected to reduce suicides.”

It is exceedingly rare for a person to commit suicide without first having made detailed plans. They may put a plan on hold, then pick it back up at a later time, but it does not come to fruition without planning and consideration. Mandating a waiting period by law, before the purchase of a firearm, is placing a requirement the suicide has already met. It’s not a deterrent. The suicide accomplishes their goal, if not now, then later. Those not truly suicidal do not die, also deliberately.

The proposed waiting period legislation will impact only law abiding Vermonters and would not be expected to reduce suicides.

In the tragic case of Andrew Black and his family, who ask in Andrew’s obituary for “cooling off” legislation to prevent suicide, there are many questions and few facts known.

It is understandable the family would like some good to come from their loss. The question is whether any good would come from their request. We know imposing a waiting period in firearm purchasing puts some people at risk — those at risk of imminent deadly violence would be prevented from meaningful and effective self-defense mechanisms. Further, they’d lose the deterrent effect of firearm possession, which is often effective without having to fire a shot.

The family refuses to reveal details of Andrew’s state of mind or what led to his suicide. However, without analyzing these and many other currently unexplored factors, one cannot understand what might have prompted this young man to take his life nor what measures might have reduced the chance of that happening. The grieving family is in pain, may feel some guilt, and is using the power and broad scope of statewide legislation and media attention to self-soothe.

Included in the analysis would be the question of why Andrew chose to use a firearm? He spent considerable money to purchase the handgun he used to kill himself, instead of choosing a method which was without additional financial expenditure. His father had firearms in the family home, locked. What is the connection, if any? He brought the weapon into, and killed himself in, the family home. This makes a very big statement. He left no explanatory note. These are meaningful pieces to the picture. The family understands some of the picture but will not share with the public. Instead, they wish to impose restrictions on all Vermonters, though Andrew’s case may be specific only to himself and his family. There may be no valid generalization that can be drawn from his actions which are applicable to anyone else. Without a forensic psychological examination of Andrew’s behavior, statements, social media writings, notes, conversations, etc., we’re just guessing. That’s not a basis for writing restrictive anti-self-defense legislation.

Neither the case of Andrew Black, nor suicide data, provide a compelling reason to knowingly endanger those at imminent risk of lethal danger by preventing them from purchasing self-defense firearms at the time of need and requiring an intentional delay of several days. I encourage you to reconsider the wisdom of this legislation as it is likely to do harm but very unlikely to do any good.


Jeffrey Kaufman, M.D.
Burlington, Vermont

Image courtesy of Public domain

7 thoughts on “Letters to legislators: Suicides not prevented by firearm purchase with waiting period

  1. Thank you Dr. Kaufman for the well written letter. I agree that there are too many unanswered questions regarding this unfortunate incident. Unfortunately, Vermont legislators are driven by emotion, not common sense. Last year it was a magazine ban and UBCs because someone only threatened to commit a violent crime (and who will get off with a slap on the wrist). Now it’s a waiting period thinking it will keep someone from killing themselves. The Left will not stop until there is a complete ban on the possession of firearms.

  2. Three of my friends committed suicide. One was with pills one was with the gun her brother committed suicide with. The two suicides with the rifle had a family history of schizophrenia and needed mental health. The gun had been passed down in the family.
    If a person wants to commit suicide and they are not talking, nothing is going to stop them including more laws.
    Rather than invest in more laws, all three of these people needed unaffordable mental health care.

  3. I’ll re-post my comment from the TNR article about this issue. By the way, good letter Jeffrey Kaufman, M.D. Wonder if Sen Sears will read and understand the reality of the issue.
    My Post:
    As stated “The family refuses to reveal details of Andrew’s state of mind or what lead to his suicide.”
    There are uncountable situations wherein there’s conflict between parents and their kids within the family. How well did the Blacks really know about their son? They won’t say so it’s questionable. Does showing up for a Legislative hearing ease their minds to what they think is a huge gun problem? The kid could have used a rope. There are horror stories about family strife and some kids run away.
    I question the whole matter. I raised two nice kids, family oriented and no drugs and they like women. I showed them how to handle guns and haven’t shot anyone. I could keep a gun in the house without fear of them committing any harm or crime. It’s how you raise them for responsibility. Their kids have the same attitude. It’s responsibility, you brought them into the world, raise them right.
    No waiting period is justified. Another “feel good-do something” attitude by Baruth et al. No common sense.

  4. Well stated Dr.Kaufman, as we all know this was a tragedy to the Black Family, but any waiting
    period will just delay the inevitable be it forty-eight hours or forty-eight days when there’s a will
    there’s a way, the use of a firearm is a Statement !!

    The other disturbing thing is that Legislators will use this tragedy for there anti-gun agenda, they
    cannot handle any real solutions on mental health, so take the easy step and make law-abiding
    citizens take the blame.

    If legislators really cared they’d be working on Drug Deaths, Auto Fatalities or the myriad of other
    issues within the state ??

    Wake up Vermont, you vote these legislators in !!

  5. Dr. Kaufman’s logical approach to this proposed bill is to be commended. His points are spot on.
    One incident of a gun related suicide is NOT a reason to jeopardize the entire population of this state.
    I feel passing this Bill might even create a whole new crime statistic because victims were not allowed to defend themselves, due to waiting two days before they could pick up their Defense Weapon. #802VTALLIANCE

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