by Kimberly Tsoukalas | Lister Hill Center Program Coordinator
Currently, in the state of Alabama, the ability to buy a firearm is available to most adults over the age of 18, with certain weapons restricted to citizens over the age of 21. Individuals who have been convicted of certain violent or alcohol-related crimes are not able to legally purchase a firearm. Alabama follows federal regulations regarding background checks, where licensed gun dealers must process a potential buyer’s information through the National Instant Criminal Background Check System database, facilitated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
Alabama is one of the most lenient states in the country regarding gun laws. No additional background checks, evaluations, waiting periods, or training are required to purchase a firearm. While there are stricter measures for individuals applying for a concealed carry permit, where applicants may be denied a permit if they are a registered sex offender or have previously been declared mentally unstable in a court of law, these restrictions are generally at the discretion of the issuing county.
Recent legislation (HB272) that was signed into law last month lifted additional restrictions for owning and carrying a firearm. Under the new legislation, a gun owner is able to have a weapon in a vehicle without a permit, and the bill revised the legal presumption that carrying a firearm is “prima facie” evidence or the intention to commit a crime of violence.
Voluntary Do-Not-Sell lists have been proposed in several states since 2019. Sometimes called “Donna’s Law,” the legislation was first initiated after Donna Nathan admitted herself to a psychiatric facility and later took her own life by firearm upon release.
HB462, sponsored by Reps. Rafferty (D-Birmingham) and Farley (R-McCalla) is a bipartisan bill calling for the establishment of a database operated by the Alabama Department of Mental Health for individuals to volunteer their own names onto a Do-Not-Sell list. This would restrict an individual’s ability to purchase or possess a firearm once their name was added to the list and creates criminal penalties for violations. The bill also provides a pathway for individuals to remove their name once it has been added. The purpose of this list is to restrict access to firearms to individuals “when there is a fear that he or she may become a risk to himself or herself or others.”
With a start date of June 1, 2023, the ADMH is tasked with developing the searchable database, along with creating and distributing a registration form for applicants. Individuals wishing to add their names to their name to the Do-Not-Sell List may do so in the following ways:
- Submitted in person at a circuit clerk’s office with government-issued photo identification. A county clerk shall immediately transmit any received registration form to the department.
- Mailed to the department with a copy of the registering individual’s government-issued photo identification.
- Submitted electronically to the department by short message service or multimedia messaging service along with a copy of government-issued photo identification and a photographic portrait of the individual that contains exchangeable image file format data proving that the photographic portrait was taken within one hour prior to transmission to the department.
The bill also lays out additional actions to implement an online portal in 2024, with particular consideration to protecting the identity of applicants and preventing program misuse through fraudulent applications.
Individuals who request to be added to the Do-Not-Sell List must wait 21 days before requesting their names to be removed. Their application for removal will be administered by the district court, where the individual must provide evidence stating that they are not a harm to themselves or others.
Self-harm is the 10th leading cause of death in adults in the United States and has been declared a public health crisis. Recently, Virginia and Washington have enacted legislation establishing voluntary Do-Not-Sell Lists for firearms to restrict access to individuals experiencing a mental health crisis. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, half of all suicides are caused by a firearm and are, by far, the deadliest method with the highest chance of mortality per attempt. Delaying firearm purchases has been found to reduce the number of suicides without increasing the number of suicides by other means, showing that suicide attempts by different methods “is unlikely to undermine the lifesaving potential of these laws.”
There is empirical data to support the creation of a Do-Not-Sell list. A survey conducted in Alabama distributed to 200 patients receiving psychiatric care found that 46% of responses indicated they would register for such a database. Broader internet surveys found up to ⅓ of all participants would add their name to a Do-Not-Sell List. According to the New England Journal of Medicine, the vast majority of individuals experiencing suicidal ideation or thoughts will see a clinician within a year of their death, putting medical practitioners in a position to screen their patients for suicidal tendencies:
“Clinicians routinely assess their patients’ risk of suicide, yet they are limited in terms of the practical interventions they can use for patients who are not actively suicidal but who fear they may become so. … [Voluntary Do-Not-Sell Lists] reduce suicide risk consensually and indefinitely in advance of a crisis. The majority of people who die by suicide see a primarycare provider in the year before their death.”
As a part of standard medical practice, clinicians can regularly encourage the use of advance directives such as determining a medical proxy, so this form of legislation offers patients an opportunity to create such a directive in reference to firearm-related decisions. Unlike other mental health interventions, voluntary registries develop opportunities to enhance patient autonomy and preserve their role in their healthcare decision-making processes.
HB462 is currently in discussion in the Alabama House of Representatives, having been read on the floor and placed on the calendar for formal debate. If you want to make your voice heard on this or future legislation, click here to identify your elected officials.
DDon’tknow what to say? Check out this guide from the American Civil Liberties Union on drafting a letter to your government officials.
Want to know more about firearm legislation and how gun violence impacts mental health? Take a look at these resources: