“With nearly half of all suicides in the military having been committed with privately owned firearms, the Pentagon and Congress are moving to establish policies intended to separate at-risk service members from their personal weapons.” New York Times article here.
My comments: In an ongoing attempt to address the problem of rising suicides in the military the Pentagon is contemplating ways to separate soldiers from their personal firearms. Six of every 10 military suicides are by firearms, with nearly half involving privately owned guns. The rate is slightly lower in the civilian world. The idea is not forced confiscation, rather counseling and advice to soldiers who appear to be at risk for suicide to give their guns to friends or keep them locked up on base. Many times the actual decision and attempt to commit suicide is during a crisis. Access to highly lethal means increases the possibility of the person trying to commit suicide and their the possibility of their success. A Harvard School of Public Health article reports “it becomes increasingly clear that how a person attempts–the means they use–plays a key role in whether they live or die,” including access to fire arms.
Of course the National Rifle Association has its hand in this debate about troop access to guns. A 2011 measure, which was part of the Defense Authorization Act and passed at the urging of the N.R.A., was viewed by many military officials as preventing commanders and counselors from discussing gun safety with potentially suicidal troops. This is of course absurd. I can see you are suicidal but I can’t talk to you about gun safety to save your life? A new measure is in the 2012 version of the act that will make it clear that a discussion with troops is not prohibited.
It is sad that we continue to sacrifice the lives of service members even after they return home. The selfish N.R.A. is so focused on their version of the Freedom to Bear Arms that it is willing to sacrifice everyone and everything to maintain their position, even the lives of soldiers who have already put their life on the line in war and are now struggling to stay alive at home.
But most disturbing is the Pentagon and our nation’s refusal to see that the wars are the main reason for the suicides and that to stop the deaths here at home we must stop the killing abroad. It’s not rocket science. Eleven years of continuous war has brought us a broken economy, tens of thousands dead and maimed and no sign of “victory” by any measure in sight. Troops come home to few jobs and limited access to services to help them with the economic, physical and mental health challenges they face. Trying to make sense of going to war and the dismal situation many of them find themselves facing upon returning from war, suicide appears to be a way out. First step to ending the suicides is ending the wars.