Gun-related suicides among young adults in Missouri rose sharply after legislators relaxed state gun laws — particularly the requirement to obtain a permit to purchase firearms, according to a new report from the University of Missouri-Kansas City.
Because of these changes, Missouri is now considered among the states with the “least restrictive” gun laws in the nation, compounded by the fact that Missouri has had one of the highest rates of gun deaths in America for the past decade, reports Kansas City Public Radio.
In 2018, a young person took their own life every four days in the state following a self-inflicted gunshot wound.
According to the University of Missouri-Kansas City report, the staggering firearm suicide rate among adults aged 19-24 jumped nearly 22 percent due to the elimination of the 2007 permit-to-purchase (PTP) requirement.
Under that rule, applicants needed to fill out paperwork at their local sheriff’s office before purchasing a handgun for a licensed dealer or private sellers. In addition, would-be gun purchasers also needed to pass a background check — now standard in most states.
Apurva Bhatt, the study’s co-author and University of Missouri-Kansas City psychiatry resident, said this “extra step” of obtaining a permit was put in place “to make sure that those who were getting a firearm could have it safely.”
However, after the permit-to-purchase requirement ended, there was a surge in purchases by young adults, the study concluded after analyzing buying habits and firearm suicide rates from January 1999 through December 2018.
Addressing skeptics of the importance of PTP laws, the researchers cited a 2015 study, which found that after enacting PTP restrictions in Connecticut, the state saw a 15.4 percent reduction in firearm suicides — proving that the additional layer of red tape was a disincentive for purchasers who might be considering doing harm to themselves.
Additional Easing of Gun Laws
While the main contributor to the rise in firearm suicides among young people in Missouri is directly correlated to the repealed 2007 restriction, further gun restrictions have only continued to relax, resulting in subsequent spikes in firearm suicides rates among teenagers, said Kansas City Public Radio.
Starting in 2011, Missouri lowered the legal age to obtain a concealed carry permit from 23 to 21 years, and further reduced it to age 19 three years later, according to the authors.
In 2014, lawmakers reduced the legal age to obtain a concealed carry permit to 19 years old. Following this, previous research found that gun suicide rates rose 32 percent among Missouri teenagers aged 14-18.
Most recently, in 2017, a law was enacted that allowed for “permitless carry” for all gun owners in most public places.
The current law says that any Missouri resident “at least aged 19 years may carry a firearm in plain view (ie, open carry) or in hidden view (concealed carry) in most places without a permit,” the authors detail.
“It’s possible as more people buy weapons that could be used in concealed carry, they’re also then not keeping them as safely,” said Jeffrey Metzner, another co-author of the study, and an associate professor of psychiatry at the University of Missouri-Kansas City and director of acute psychiatric services at Truman Medical Center.
Lindsay Clukies, pediatric emergency room physician at St. Louis Children’s Hospital echoed Metzner’s sentiment, telling Kansas City Public Radio, “It’s all about access.”
“We know that states with more restrictive firearm laws have lower rates of suicide, unintentional injuries and firearm-related injuries as a whole,” Clukies concluded.
Following the repeal of PTP restrictions in Missouri, Clukies and her colleagues have taken action into their own hands and begun a gun-screening program for all patients who walk through the emergency room “in an effort to provide informational safety training.”
Physicians at the St. Louis Children’s Hospital ask the roughly 60,000 patients and their families who visit the ER each year if they have firearms at home, and if so, they ask how its stored as part of an effort to educate them about keeping themselves safe.
Overall, the University of Missouri-Kansas City study’s authors say that communities and legislators have a duty to get the suicide epidemic under control.
“For many individuals attempting suicide, the time between suicidal ideation and attempt can be as little as 10 minutes,” the authors conclude.
“Increased access to lethal means during periods of distress or impulsivity may unfortunately lead to a completed suicide [for young adults.]”
Additional researchers in the study were:
Apurva Bhatt, MD, Psychiatry Resident Physician at UMKC School of Medicine/Center for Behavioral Medicine; Xi Wang, MS, a student at the UMKC; An-Lin Cheng, PhD, an Associate Professor and Director of Research and Statistical Consult Service in the Department of Biomedical and Health Informatics, UMKC; Kalee L. Morris, MS, a medical student at UMKC; Luke Beyer, BS, a student in the Kansas City University of Medicine and Biosciences;
Abbie Chestnut, an Assistant General Counsel at Truman Medical Center; and Kristy Steigerwalt, MLS, PharmD, a Clinical Medical Librarian at UMKC;
The full study is accessible here.
Additional Reading: Handgun Purchaser Licensing Laws Lead to Fewer Deaths: Study
Andrea Cipriano is a staff writer for The Crime Report.