Wednesday, April 6, 2011

This is a downer.

This began as a letter to some of my friends who are in favor of AZ SB 1467, the current bill in Arizona allowing people with a concealed carry permit to carry guns on college campuses. It then got rather long, and, after much internal debate, I decided to post it here instead. I kind of don’t want to, because there’s some stuff in there that will probably scare my parents, but it’s still something I feel strongly about and I really want to share it.

I kind of make it a point not to talk politics with these aforementioned friends. I don’t mean this in an offensive way at all. I love those people. They’re super awesome. It’s just that they have very strong views to one side of the political spectrum and I have strong views to the other side, and neither of us is going to change the others mind. This particular post is politics-based, but it’s not an attempt to change anyone’s mind. It’s more of a confessional/attempt to bring in another issue to your case.

From what I understand, proponents of the campus carry bill (SB 1467) want to carry guns on campus because they have a fundamental right to protect themselves. School shootings, such as the Virginia Tech massacre, could have been prevented if people had guns on campus. Criminals will carry guns on campus whether it’s legal or not, while law-abiding citizens will not if it’s illegal. Meanwhile, opponents say that college students lack the maturity – or, in some cases – sobriety to carry guns on campus. They worry it will increase school shootings and/or accidents. I personally think that this argument is stupid. College students are more mature than people tend to think, and aren’t always intoxicated. I even read one case saying that if a student gets a bad grade he or she might shoot the teacher. That’s just ridiculous.

The problem that I do have with the bill is how it will affect the suicide rate of college students.

I’ve struggled with suicidal tendencies my entire life. (Mom and Dad, if you’re reading this, don’t freak out. I never told you – or really anyone – because I was embarrassed. It’s not your fault at all.) They peaked when I was in junior high. I never attempted suicide, but I considered it regularly. I didn’t want to poison, cut, or hang myself – that seemed very slow and painful. I didn’t want to use carbon monoxide poisoning – the only time cars were in our house was when other people were home, and I knew they’d hear me and stop me. I considered jumping off of a tall place, but I lived in a single-story house and didn’t have access to the kind of height I needed. I used to wish that my parents had a gun in the house, so I could just do it already. Now that you know that, you can see why I’m so leery about guns. If my parents owned a gun I would not be alive.

An interesting thing about being suicidal is that doesn’t always go completely away. It’s a disease. I sort of compare it to alcoholism. Even if you haven’t had a drink for years, you’re still considered a “recovering alcoholic.” I do not want to kill myself and I don’t think I ever will. Over 99% of the time I have zero suicidal tendencies. But if you ever have had these tendencies they will come raring up again at certain triggers. For me, it’s tied to feelings of helplessness or shame. The less control I feel I have over my life, or the more shame I feel about something, the more likely I am to have these feelings. I would never act on it – I have all the low-risk factors. I have a huge social support system and am involved with religion. I’m a straight female. I’ve never been through a divorce or been widowed. But just in case I never want to be around guns if I can help it. I certainly don’t want to live anywhere where there are guns.

College students are demographic with the second highest suicide rate in America – white men over 75 are the highest. But 4,212 kids between the ages of 15-24 killed themselves in 2005 (the year with the most recent data) and countless more attempt it. It’s the third leading cause of death in that demographic, and is the second leading cause of death among college students. From 1950 to today, the overall suicide rate has dropped across the country, but it has almost doubled in people aged 20-24. Arizona has the 8th highest suicide rate in the nation. 52.1% of completed suicides used guns.

High suicide rates are very strongly tied to gun access. The states with the highest access to guns have the highest suicide rate. And we can look at other countries for precedence: Canada, for example, lowered the availability of guns from 31 per cent to 19 per cent and the suicide rate involving guns dropped from 32 per cent to 19 per cent. In Australia, the number of households with guns was halved from 20 to ten per cent and the number of gun suicides fell from 30 to 19 per cent.

Guns on campus would decrease fatalities in school shootings, but current fatalities are extremely small in comparison to suicide. I’m not trying to downplay these terrible tragedies. School shootings are terrible, and should not happen. But I strongly believe that allowing guns to be carried on campus will greatly increase campus deaths. In 2007, the year of the Virginia Tech massacre, 37 people died in school shootings in America. 32 of these people were at Virginia Tech. In 2010, 12 people died in school shootings. Only four of these deaths occurred at universities. The rest were at elementary, middle, and high schools, where guns are banned by the Gun Free School Zones Acts of 1990 and 1995. Meanwhile, 10% of college students have admitted to seriously considering suicide.

Guns on campus will only be allowed for people with concealed carry permits. They have a very thorough background check by the FBI and are among the safest people in the United States. But people who want to kill themselves are oftentimes very determined. If their friends had guns, they would probably be locked up and unloaded, but that doesn’t mean people who are determined to kill themselves wouldn’t find some way to get at the gun. And concealed carry permits are only allowed to people who have had no history of mental illness. What if, like me, someone had struggled with this, but got over it with no outside help? What if they got a permit and a gun, and didn’t have any suicidal tendencies at all for years, until they relapse for a short moment? Allowing guns on campus will take more lives than they intend to save.

So, in conclusion, those are my thoughts on the carry-on-campus bill.


The Wikipedia articles on school shooting statistics and suicide assessment


  1. This may be a downer, but Alison, this is an excellent letter. I have considered a lot of what you have said here myself, and I agree with you. It's the same as so many arguments. We have to take the occasionally tragic with the majority good. I am so glad that you are my friend, and happy you are here to be mine.

  2. I agree with you. In Junior High and High School, I also had suicidal thoughts and yes it is like a disease. I almost killed myself once when I was extremely determined. I decided to jump out of my car on the freeway. Thank goodness I didn't do it (Cuz I thought God told me not to... meh), but it just proves that people will go to lengths to die if they really want to. SB 1467 shouldn't be passed.

  3. I still struggle with these too every once in a while. I attempted once when I was in Jr. High (tried to poison myself), and have been close to attempting several times since. I didn't even admit it really until recently. I still get the urge sometimes, but as soon as I get it, I reach out to my awesome support system. It's a really difficult thing to admit, and I commend you on your bravery. I love you! I'm very glad that your parents did not own a gun, and though I'm sure you already know this because we have similar political and social views, I completely agree with you.

  4. Alison, this grandmother too for many years was suicidal (Wow! Is everybody?) In my case, one real deterrent was that it would set a precedent for those around me and those coming after me.

    I don't know what causes such thoughts but I suspect that the feeling of powerlessness is almost always at the root. Today - and for a long time already - I am glad I did not follow through with it.

    Grateful that you haven't either.