The state of Missouri adopted Constitutional Carry five years ago, and has followed up with several other pieces of solid pro-Second Amendment legislation in the years since. There’s still one hugely important measure that hasn’t been turned into law yet, however; campus carry. Currently it’s a criminal offense for a licensed concealed carry holder (or any other legal gun owner) to carry on the campus of a college or university, though Rep. Chuck Basye has introduced a campus carry bill that would restrict campuses from “generally prohibiting the carrying, chambering, or active operation or storage of a concealed firearm on the campus of the institution.”
This would bring Missouri in line with the neighboring state of Kansas, where campus carry has been in effect since 2017. There’ve been no issues with the Kansas law in the five years that it’s been in place, but anti-gun activists are still launching a furious attempt to derail the Missouri legislation by warning that campus carry will lead to a dramatic increase in student suicides.
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 adult psychiatry residency training and am currently a first-year child and adolescent psychiatry fellow. I have seen firsthand the devastating impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on college students’ mental health. I have also published research on the impacts of Missouri’s firearm laws on youth and young adult suicide, and I worry that introducing firearms on college campuses in the state would worsen the risk of completed suicide in this population. Firearm suicide rates in college-age Missourians are already at an all-time high. Missouri experienced a 71% increase in suicides in 10- to 24-year-olds from 2007 to 2018. Data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also shows rates of firearm suicides in 18- to 22-year-old Missourians have tripled recently, going from 5.6 in 2013 to 15.9 per 100,000 of these young people in 2020.
For many who attempt suicide, the time between making a plan and attempting is less than 10 minutes. Once the crisis has passed, most people who survive one attempt do not die by suicide later. Access to lethal means during moments of crisis can greatly increase the risk of suicide completion, and firearms are the most lethal means available. Transition to college and college itself is stressful. Students must balance school, work and sometimes children. Many are under enormous financial pressures. Some struggle to manage social pressures and experience homesickness. Some experiment with alcohol or other substances that can affect their mental health and increase risk for self-harm. It’s not surprising that many first episodes of thoughts about suicide emerge during this period.
Suicide is a real issue, but it’s not a gun control issue, and treating it as such only takes us further away from more productive strategies that focus on the actual problem of mental health. And indeed, as author Apurva Bhatt acknowledges, suicide rates have been increasing among college-age students in Missouri without a campus carry law in place, which suggests that the problem isn’t going to be adequately addressed by simply declaring that adults shouldn’t have access to their Second Amendment rights on college or university campuses.
A much better approach would be to recognize that the Second Amendment rights of adult students and staff don’t disappear once you set foot on a university, scale up the mental health resources available on campus for students who need it, and encourage gun owners who may need to temporarily store their firearms out of their home because of a mental health crisis to voluntarily do so, without any law or legal mandate in effect.
If Bhatt is serious about saving lives, there’s no reason for her to call for keeping the status quo in place when suicide rates are already climbing. Instead of focusing on the tool, we need to be paying better attention to those in crisis and ensuring they get the help and support they need. Not only can we can do that without infringing on the Second Amendment rights of all, but a “solution” based on gun control isn’t going to solve anything at all.