Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Death By Suicide Is Up In WI Since Gun Waiting Period Law Repealed

The suicide of a young woman in Colorado this week demonstrates that 48-hour waiting periods for gun purchases can save lives

An 18-year-old woman from Florida, who had an unhealthy obsession with the Columbine High School shooting that occurred 20 years ago in Littleton, Colorado, made a pilgrimage from her home to the Rocky Mountain state this week.

Image credit: Wikimedia
Authorities worried that the woman, who had reportedly purchased a gun when she arrived in Colorado, posed a security threat, and many high schools closed their doors rather than risk a repeat of what happened in 1999.

That woman ended up dying by suicide, according to reporting from Fox 31 in Denver. She was able to purchase her weapon in about 20 minutes, as Colorado doesn't have a waiting period to purchase guns.

When I read about those details this week, I was reminded about a series of blog posts I had written in 2015 about Wisconsin's own 48-hour waiting period to buy guns. At that time, state lawmakers justified abolishing that standard, which had been in place for forty years prior, using questionable stories (well, only one story actually, which was flimsy at best) to pave the way to a zero-wait time purchase for guns in the state from that point forward.

I made a sad prediction when the 48-hour waiting period law was repealed — that crime would go up, and more specifically, that suicides would increase across the state as well.

Unfortunately, my predictions on both turned out to be true.

From 2014 to 2017 — the year before the gun ban was ended, and the most recent year where FBI crime statistics are available, respectively — violent crime went up in a significant way. In fact, violent crime across Wisconsin increased by 10.2 percent between those years.

Death by suicide also increased during that period. According to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, the suicide rate per 100,000 individuals went up by nearly 18 percent between 2014 to 2017.

Why was I confident that this would happen? I had hoped that I would be wrong. Unfortunately, my predictions were based on common sense observations that every lawmaker in the state of Wisconsin was able to access themselves.

I looked to other states that had recently removed their own waiting period laws from the books to see if crime had gone up. South Dakota did so, just a few years before Wisconsin did, and saw a rapid increase in violent crime, for example.

I also did my homework on the subject, and found that people who die by suicide generally formulate a plan to kill themselves, and follow through on the first steps of that plan — whether going to the gun store or making other arrangements — within 20 minutes of making their initial decision.

I wondered, earlier on Wednesday, what would have happened had this young woman made her way to Colorado and found that she'd have to wait for two days before getting a gun. She would have had more time to think things over — she'd probably have been found by authorities before being able to get her hands on the gun — and the gun store itself could have prevented the sale, even if they had begun the 48-hour process, because by the time they would have handed the weapon over to her, they would have been made aware of the danger she posed to herself and to others.

I also wonder about the people of Wisconsin who have died by suicide — how many would have been delayed from doing so, and how many lives could have been saved by that delay. Studies demonstrate that waiting periods do, in fact, save lives, and it's shameful that the state of Wisconsin, under former Gov. Scott Walker and the Republican legislature in 2015 (of which many of its members remain in office today), removed the waiting period under suspicious rationales.

Now, correlation doesn't equate causation. Suicide rates may have gone up for other reasons, and violent crime may have increased for different reasons than the removal of the 48-hour waiting period as well. But removing that restriction didn't make the state safer — nor did removing other restrictions on gun ownership in the years Scott Walker was governor.

Those revisions to our laws didn't result in less crime, as was promised to us by the former chief executive of our state. Rather, we saw more crime, and more suicide, across Wisconsin, just as I had predicted.

Reinstituting the 48-hour waiting period ought to be a priority of the current session of the legislature. Unfortunately, since Republicans remain in power, the chances of that happening are slim. As more time passes before such a waiting period can be reimplemented, more lives will be lost in the state in the meantime — a legislative "accomplishment" that Republicans ought to feel ashamed over.