SB 1503: Task Force Time for Suicide and Gun Violence

When a government does not want to pursue a specific policy or does not know a specific policy, it often appoints commissions to study a problem. That offers a means for policymakers to appear to be doing something without actually doing something. I’m not sure how a “task force” differs from this.

The 2024 legislative session’s SB 1503 will create a task force to study, according to, Section 1 of this bill, “public health best practices for reducing deaths from gun violence and for suicide prevention.” Section 1(3)(a)-(i) then provides the specific scope:

(a) How to better support youth experiencing suicidal ideation.
(b) How to better support rural Oregonians experiencing suicidal ideation.
(c) How to reduce stigma on suicidal ideation
(d) Barriers to suicide prevention support.
(e) Current gun violence intervention protocol across this state, including at hospitals
and behavioral health facilities, and recommendations for improvement of the protocol.
(f) Locations and events most targeted in gun violence.
(g) Rates of success for extreme risk protection orders and capacity for police stations
or other entities to implement voluntary surrender or holding of firearms.
(h) Nationwide analysis of gun violence prevention policies and new advancements, including the success of gunshot detection sensors.
(i) Barriers to implementing best practices for gun violence prevention and suicide prevention.

There is some rationale for grouping gun violence with suicide. If one carefully consumes statistics on gun deaths, the inclusion of suicides is sometimes made when only violence is implied. However, as a matter of policy, Oregon doesn’t think of suicide as necessarily an act of violence. We have lawful physician-assisted suicide, after all. This bill is thankfully clear on setting a distinction between the two. That’s important because without solving the underlying problem of suicide, a policy of merely attempting to limit the availability of firearms can mean a substitutable increase in falls, hangings, and slit wrists. The same principle is true for violence.

Maybe this will offer more than optics. Beyond restricting the right to bear arms, many legitimate actions by state governments to mitigate the illegitimate use of firearms and self-harm might remain untried. If SB 1503 is passed, hopefully, this task force can foster better policy.

Eric Shierman lives in Salem and is the author of We were winning when I was there.