Last month, Senator Jessica Castleberry (R-35/Rapid City) urged South Dakota college students to lobby their legislators to allow guns on campus so they can protect themselves from rampant crime and discrimination.
Mary Garrigan, member of Rapid City Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, responds with a letter to the Rapid City Journal inviting Senator Castleberry to a conversation about the well-established evidence that guns on campus create more danger for college students:
In truth, there is no evidence that allowing guns on campus makes students any safer or reduces crime, including sexual assault crimes, on campuses. In fact, research indicates that allowing guns on campuses will likely lead to more gun homicides and suicides, more non-fatal shootings and more threats with a firearm.
Historically, college campuses have prohibited guns and are relatively safe environments. Crime statistics from the U.S. Dept. of Justice show that 93 percent of all violent crime against college students occurs off campus, not on. And any suggestion that campus carry would help reduce a high rate of sexual assault crimes against students is largely fiction. It fails to acknowledge the fact that 8 out of 10 sexual assault victims know their assailants (Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network).
This crime frequently occurs in social situations, often involving alcohol and someone they trust enough to forego packing a gun in their handbag – not in a dark campus parking lot by an unknown perpetrator [Mary Garrigan, letter to the editor, Rapid City Journal, 2021.08.26].
The 2016 Johns Hopkins research which Garrigan cites addresses whether “gun-free zones” facilitate mass shootings (they don’t) and allowing guns on campus stops mass shootings (it doesn’t). It also discusses broader safety concerns about the harm pro-gun policies on campus may do to students already dealing with still-developing brains, their impulsiveness, and suicide:
Of particular concern in the context of proposals to allow students to carry firearms on campus is the risk of suicide associated with mental illnesses, especially depression, among this group. In a national survey of undergraduates conducted in 2015 about events within the past 12 months, 8.9% reported “seriously considering attempting suicide” and 1.4% had attempted suicide . A study of students from 645 U.S. college campuses found increased rates of suicide among college students in 2008-2009 compared to 2004-2005: the suicide rate increased from 6.5 to 7.7 per 100,000 students  Importantly, a firearm was the leading method for suicide among males, accounting for nearly a third (31%) of all suicides among male college students . For females, firearms were the third leading cause of suicide (10% of all suicides in this group), behind hanging (29%) and poison (16%) . This gender differential in firearm suicide on college campuses mirrors the differential in the overall U.S. population . A large body of literature clearly shows that firearm access is associated with increased rates of suicide, suggesting that increased access to firearms on college campuses could significantly increase suicide in this vulnerable group [67,68].
The combination of challenges with impulse control, emotional regulation, and onset of mental illness contribute to high rates of suicide and suicide attempts among adolescents and young adults. In 2014, suicide was the second leading cause of death in the U.S. among college age youth 17-24 years old . Between 1999 and 2014, the suicide rate in this age group increased 12% from 11.3 to 12.7 per 100,000.69 Firearms represent an extremely lethal means of intentional self-harm; approximately 90% of suicide attempts with a firearm resulted in a fatality compared to 3% for poisoning attempts . In 2014 among males age 17-24 who died by suicide, 49% used a firearm .
Some suicide risk factors differ among those under age 25 compared to older populations. Emotional control, impulsivity, and decision making continue to develop into the mid-20s, which can put youth at higher risk for suicide . In addition to being more impulsive, young individuals tend to be more vulnerable to a contagion effect after exposure to suicide within their community 72]. Suicide risk is often highest in the early stages of the onset of major psychiatric conditions and these symptoms often first develop in childhood or early adolescence [60, 73]. The risk of suicide among youth also increases with age; 2.6 per 100,000 among boys age 10–14 compared to 22.9 per 100,000 among young men age 20–24  [Daniel W. Webster et al., “Firearms on College Campuses: Research Evidence and Policy Implications,” Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, 2016.10.15, pp. 20–21].
If Senator Castleberry really wants to make campuses safer, she should propose legislation to limit the number of alcohol vendors around our campuses:
One factor that can moderate the relationship between alcohol use and violence on campus is the density of alcohol outlets around a college campus. According to one study of 32 colleges, on- and off-premise outlet densities were associated with campus rape-offense rates. Student drinking level was associated with both campus rape and assault rates, and mediated the effects of on- and off-campus alcohol outlet density. Campuses with greater densities of alcohol outlets had higher drinking levels, which in turn explained higher rates of violence on those campuses  [Webster et al., 2016.10.15, p. 22].
Ah, but we have lobbyists and at least a couple legislators who make money selling alcohol, so we know Senator Castleberry won’t lead her colleagues down that road. And with all the lobbyists promoting gun sales, it’s unlikely Senator Castleberry will pay attention to Garrigan’s evidence and good sense showing that guns on campus are counterproductive to public safety.