Suicide rates among our nation’s troops has reached epidemic levels, and nearly half of all those suicides have been committed with privately owned firearms, a fact which is apparently just fine with the National Rifle Association.
But that isn’t stopping the Pentagon and some members of Congress from pressing forward with trying to establish policies that would separate at-risk service members from their guns. As reported by the New York Times, senior Defense Department officials are in the process of designing a suicide prevention campaign that encourages friends and families of potentially suicidal service members to safely store or voluntarily remove personal guns from the home. Congress is reportedly set to take up a bill that would allow military mental health counselors and commanders to talk to troops about their guns.
Those counselors and other medical professionals are currently prevented from asking firearm related questions thanks to a gag rule, urged by the National Rifle Association, that blocks commanders and counselors from discussing gun safety with potentially suicidal troops and from collecting information from service members about lawfully owned weapons stored at home. Florida enacted a similar state-wide measure that the medical profession strongly opposed because of its harmful public health effects.
The new measure, which is drafted as an amendment to the defense authorization bill for 2013 has been passed by the House of Representatives but not the Senate. It would allow mental health professionals and commanders to ask service members about their guns if they have “reasonable grounds” to believe the person is at “high risk” of committing suicide or harming others.
As reported by the New York Times, according to Defense Department statistics, more than 6 of 10 military suicides are by firearms, with nearly half involving privately owned guns. When active-duty troops who live on bases or are deployed are identified as potentially suicidal, commanders typically take away their military firearms. But commanders do not have that authority with private firearms kept off base. This legislation is designed to help reach those troops.
The NRA has made it clear it will not support any legislation that allows for the confiscation of firearms, even if an individual is identified as high risk for suicide or violence against others and that it will pressure its Congressional supporters to oppose final passage. These are policies that have the backing of the military establishment because they understand the crisis in its ranks. If the NRA stands in the way of our military leadership finally taking proactive steps to help curb preventable gun violence and depths in its ranks then the organization will truly have blood on its hands.
Photo from Leasepics via flickr.