Since the close of a particularly brutal election season, we find ourselves deeply divided. It’s easy to foster hatred toward the opposing side, but at this time it is more important than ever to make sure our politics are truly representing us rather than blinding us to the commonalities we still share as North Carolinians.
Believe it or not, there are still issues all of us can get behind, even if you’re feeling particularly Scrooge-like heading into the holiday season. The issue I’m discussing here is not warm and fuzzy. It’s suicide. And it has become a serious issue here in North Carolina. According to data from the North Carolina Child Fatality Task Force, youth suicides doubled from 2010 to 2014, increasing by a third from 2013 to 2014 alone. The CDC reported a total of 1,351 individuals in North Carolina committed suicide in 2014, up from 884 in 1999. These are huge numbers, and they are on the rise.
In spite of myths surrounding the issue, much is known about the ways people commit suicide. We know 86 percent of people who attempt suicide make the decision to do so within eight hours of acting, according to Harvard’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health in 2013. Furthermore, according to the Brady Campaign, in 2016 over half of all completed suicides involve firearms, and with all of the news coverage surrounding gun violence, little seems to report that two-thirds of gun related deaths are suicides. This means people are not meticulously planning. They instead are making impulsive decisions to end their own life, and if that decision involves the use of a gun, they are more likely to die.
We can all agree suicide is a horrific thing. It is a hopeless cry for help, resulting in dozens of years of potential life lost, and leaving a path of devastation for the surviving family and community.
Less intuitive is that nearly all people also agree on the necessary measures to be taken to reduce suicides. Currently, nine states and the District of Columbia require some kind of waiting or “cooling off” period for handgun purchases. A 2011 YouGov poll notes that even among NRA members, 50 percent are in favor of a five-day waiting period to purchase a handgun, a direct link to suicide as it allows for a cooling off period to prevent impulse actions with a deadly means. Rates among non-gun owners and non-NRA members were even higher, indicating that a majority of people support a waiting period.
North Carolina currently requires a permit for handguns, but only specifies a maximum time in which the sheriff’s department must approve or deny the application. There is no minimum time frame. Furthermore, once an application has been approved, it gives an individual an open ticket to buy a handgun at their convenience, leaving an open window for an impulsive action. Creating a waiting period would simply close this loophole. There is a tendency to gloss over issues, thinking, “Well, that won’t affect me.” But it very well could.
Of the 1,351 people in North Carolina who committed suicide in 2014; 60.1 percent used firearms to do so. If 86 percent of these suicides were attempted within eight hours of that decision (as mentioned above), this would mean 698 lives could have been saved as a result of a waiting period in one year alone. The number is equal to a whole community or a whole school wiped off the map, and it very well could happen in your community.
It is time to implement a three-day waiting period for firearms, not to punish gun owners or threaten the Second Amendment, but because it represents an issue we can all agree on – we want to see suicide rates go down, and if there is something we can do to save the lives of nearly 700 North Carolinians, we should do it. People will still be able to purchase a gun; it will simply necessitate individuals to take some time to think if they impulsively head to the gun store after being laid off or getting into an argument with their partner.
The time is now to act on issues such as this to bring us back together. Take the five minutes to call or write your local representative and express your concern at the suicide trends occurring here, and encourage the implementation of laws that actually represent North Carolina.
Allison Balmes is studying for a master’s degree in public health at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill.