Capitol dome

A Madison lawmaker seeks to allow people at risk of suicide voluntarily surrender the right to buy a gun.

To help prevent suicides in Wisconsin, residents would be able to prohibit themselves from buying a handgun in the state, under a state legislative proposal circulated last week.

The proposal, authored by Rep. Melissa Sargent, D-Madison, would allow individuals who might be at risk of suicide to sign away their handgun-buying privileges for one, five or 20 years to try and reduce the number of suicides committed with handguns.

“I feel very strongly that we will be saving lives in the state of Wisconsin,” Sargent said. “If one life is saved because of this legislation, it would be a win.”

Firearms account for more than 45 percent of Wisconsin’s suicide deaths, according to the state Department of Health Services. Gunshots are by far the most common cause of death by suicide nationwide, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Wisconsin’s rate of 14.59 suicides per 100,000 people in 2015 was higher than the national average of 13.26, according to the CDC. In 2016, 877 Wisconsinites died by suicide, making it the 10th-leading cause of death in the state.

Sargent said the proposal will face stiff opposition from lawmakers and critics.

While Sargent said the measure could help decrease the number of deaths by suicide and attempts, she said critics are claiming that the proposal is an assault on Second Amendment rights.

Sargent said the proposal was drafted in a way that doesn’t negatively affect gun ownership rights.

“This is not a bill that will take away anyone’s guns. This is a voluntary program,” she said. “We’re providing them with a solution, with empowerment … to make them safer.”

The proposal was modeled after gambling self-exclusion programs in other states like Michigan, Illinois and Iowa.

Sargent said individuals wanting to exclude themselves from being able to legally own a gun would apply with the state Department of Justice. Those wishing to regain their right to purchase a handgun after one year would reapply to the DOJ with the assistance of a psychiatrist or psychologist.

Sargent said she and co-author Sen. Latonya Johnson, D-Milwaukee, circulated the proposal for co-sponsors last week.

Sargent said everyone, including herself, knows someone who had died by suicide or was affected by a suicide.

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Chris Aadland is a reporting intern for the Wisconsin State Journal.