As a retired intensive care pediatrician who has cared for children and teens with serious and sometimes fatal firearm injuries, I feel obliged to speak up about House Bill 2519 being considered by our lawmakers.
This bill would force all colleges and universities to allow concealed carry of guns on campuses in West Virginia. The bill will be considered by the House Judiciary Committee early next week and a public hearing is set for Monday at 2 p.m. The huge impact of House Bill 2519 are only being considered in this one committee.
If this bill is enacted, the potential for all types of gun injuries and deaths would increase, but especially for suicide, which is the second-leading cause of death in college-age youth. It is known that access to a firearm triples the risk of suicide. A recent national study showed that, in about half the cases of suicide, it was a result of an impulsive act, not preceded by mental illness, but instead by an acute crisis, such as a relationship break-up, with substance use/abuse often being a part of the picture.
In these tragic, impulsive suicides, there is no warning sign that would allow friends or family to intervene. Most of us do not realize that, of the 100 gun-related deaths per day in the United States, about two thirds are suicides. Finally, it is worth noting that West Virginia has the highest suicide rate east of the Mississippi. We need to be working to lower that rate, not potentially adding to the problem.
In addition to the increased risk of injury this bill places on students and others at our universities, it could cost millions, if enacted. Arizona, for example, considered guns-on-campus laws, but wisely did not pass such legislation (along with 38 other states), partly due to estimated costs of $13 million in the first year alone, followed by ongoing costs of $3.1 million annually. Smaller states also have reported expenditures in the millions related to campus carry laws.
To consider some of the difficult logistics leading to such costs in the face of such laws, realize that some schools have even chosen to have “gun dorms” and “non-gun dorms.” Increased security and insurance costs are part of the cost equation, all of which drive up tuition.
There are many other concerns about HB 2519, including the enactment in 2016 of an essentially “permitless” concealed carry law in West Virginia for those 21 and over, which would inevitably allow some unvetted and untrained carriers on our college campuses if HB 2519 is enacted.
HB 2519 would make campuses less safe, by increasing risk for students, faculty and staff, while leading to higher tuition. These are costs our state cannot afford.
I urge you to contact your lawmakers, who deserve our respect but want to hear from you, with special attention to those on the House Judiciary Committee. Ask them to oppose HB 2519.