Red Flag Gun Law & Duty to Warn & Duty to Prevent Suicide

Lunch N Learn Webinar

NASWMN Chapter 0 2998

In 2023 Minnesota became the 21st jurisdiction in the USA to enact a Red Flag law providing a number of provisions to attempt to prevent harm to self or others with firearms. This law includes new duties for mental health professionals (specifically including social workers) as regards the contacting of county sheriffs in situations where a client possesses a gun and is deemed by the professional to be a risk to harm themselves or others.  These new duties will be reviewed and then examined along with other pre-existing duties which continue through the present: (1) the duty to warn or protect, and (2) duty to prevent suicide.  All of these duties – old and new – involve potential breaches of confidentiality. HIPAA allows for any breaches covered by laws, so there is no conflict with existing laws. However, ERPO has expanded the challenges related to clinical and ethical decision-making.  We will examine this expansion in duties as well as the companion duty to advise law enforcement as regards whether the client should lose access to a firearm. Some key issues will include ethical decision-making, risks of taking action, thresholds for breaching confidentiality, and the construction of client information informing them of the limits of privacy. One of the challenges in such situations is the slippery slope as regards inquiry about firearms and the danger of slipping into an investigative role that is not consistent with clinical focus on the client.   Furthermore, although the natural tendency is to focus on things learned of directly from the client who is at risk to harm self or others, as a practical reality family members, friends, or neighbors could consult the professional and might be the source of information which could trigger action.

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