On December 1, 2021, Missouri State Representative Chuck Basye, a Republican from District 47, introduced HB 1751, which would allow students to bring guns to college campuses, if passed. This bill has significant implications for mental health and student suicide rates by increasing access to firearms in an already vulnerable population.
As a graduate of the University of Missouri-Kansas City, I am well aware of the unique stressors of being on a college campus. I recently completed my residency in adult psychiatry and am currently a first year fellow in child and adolescent psychiatry. I have seen firsthand the devastating effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on student mental health. I have also published research on the impacts of Missouri’s gun laws on youth and young adult suicide, and I fear that the introduction of guns on college campuses in the state will not increases the risk of suicide in this population.
Firearm suicide rates among college-age Missourians are already at an all-time high. Missouri has seen a 71% increase in suicides among 10 to 24 year olds from 2007 to 2018. Data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also shows that rates of firearm suicides among Missourians 18 to 22 have tripled recently. , rising from 5.6 in 2013 to 15.9 per 100,000 of these young people in 2020.
For many people who attempt suicide, the time between making a plan and attempting is less than 10 minutes. After the crisis is over, most people who survive an attempt do not die by suicide later. Access to lethal means during moments of crisis can greatly increase the risk of suicide, and firearms are the most lethal means available.
The transition to college and college itself is stressful. Students must balance school, work, and sometimes children. Many are under enormous financial pressure. Some find it difficult to manage social pressures and feel homesick. Some experiment with alcohol or other substances that can affect their mental health and increase the risk of self-harm. It is not surprising that many first episodes of suicidal thoughts emerge during this period.
The coronavirus pandemic has heightened tensions over student mental health. Virtual schooling has left students feeling isolated while dealing with the negative impacts of the pandemic, such as job losses and family illnesses or deaths from COVID-19. Many students are struggling to access mental health services as demand for these services soars. Delays in care can cause symptoms to progress, including worsening of suicidal thoughts or even attempts.
Missouri has the seventh highest gun death rate in the nation, and 49% of them are suicides. There is no established waiting period for the purchase of firearms or regulations for the safe storage of firearms in Missouri. Over the past two decades, Missouri lawmakers have weakened the state’s gun laws, making guns more readily available. Research on the impact of these changes has shown disturbing trends in firearm suicide rates.
Missouri’s repeal of the handgun purchase license law was associated with a 23% increase in firearm suicide rates. Our study, published in JAMA Network Open, linked the repeal of the purchase license to a 22% increase in firearm suicide rates among 19-24 year olds. We also found that lowering the minimum age for concealed carry from 21 to 19 was associated with a 7% increase in firearm suicides in that same age group.
There are many reasons why people own guns: for their own protection, hunting, or because guns are part of their identity. It is important to balance these reasons with individual and public safety.
I care deeply about my city and want to see every Missouri student thrive. HB 1751 would worsen Missouri student suicide rates by increasing access to lethal means when young people are in crisis. I urge lawmakers to carefully consider the data on the impacts of Missouri’s gun laws on suicide and take action to protect these young lives.