Submitted by Jim McNamara
Since 9/11, suicides by military members have set record highs, across all services and components (active, reserves, and National Guard). In fact, more than 30,000 service members and veterans who served since 9/11 have died from suicide.
In 2021 the number of active duty, National Guard and Reserve personnel suicides alone was 519, down from 582 in 2020. That figure does not include veterans, which is now estimated to average nearly 17 people a day.
The Secretary of Defense, Lloyd Austin, just released a report on Friday that details the military’s proposed response to this vexing problem. It was a detailed study that looked at what strategies would work on military bases to lower the number of deaths. Military doctors, mental and behavioral health specialists, senior non-commissioned officers all collaborated to prioritize the things that would most immediately eliminate suicides.
The current percentages are epic. Today, guns are involved in 66% of active duty deaths, 72% of reservists’ deaths and 78% of National Guard deaths by suicide. Over half of these deaths occur among soldiers between the ages of 17 and 25. Many of the on base deaths were by soldiers that purchased their guns and ammunition on base.
I confess that over 50 years ago, most of us were issued a weapon and taught a great deal about how to assemble, disassemble, clean, and maintain that weapon. Nobody, ever, mentioned that any weapon might be used to commit suicide. However, it did occasionally happen. It’s something that you never forget if you witness it.
That led to a series of changes. Basically, all government issued weapons were checked (signed in and out) of the armory, and were strictly stored and monitored. After shooting at the range, all live rounds were collected, counted and stored either at the range or another facility, but not with the weapons. You didn’t want to find a live round in your pocket after leaving the range. That meant many, many pushups.
Eventually, many soldiers acquired personal firearms and ammunition. Each base and command had different rules on storage. Not in barracks or dorms, but mostly okay in private quarters (family housing). However, those sometime under mental stress, were allowed to purchase firearms and ammunition at the base exchange and shortly after commit suicide.
The task force that compiled the Department of Defense report made 117 recommendations, several of which slow down the quick and easy access to lethal firearms and ammunition.
Military leaders want to encourage a culture of safe storage of personal firearms. The most immediate changes will include safe storage of all personal firearms on base in either a safe or with a safe locking device. Studies show that U.S. households that own firearms and store them safely reduce firearm deaths by 50% or more.
Second, there should be a waiting period of seven days to purchase a firearm on base, and a four day wait to purchase ammunition. Further, the task force recommended an age requirement of 25 years to purchase both a gun and ammunition on base. This targets the vulnerable 17-25-year-old population.
Third, it was recommended to repeal a law, inserted into a National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) by Congress about 10 years ago, that forbids any military leader from maintaining records of any service member lawfully purchasing or possessing a firearm. Thus, commanders cannot require a service member to store a weapon when they are at elevated risk of suicide because they don’t know that they have owned or purchased one.
This isn’t about the “woke” military or the deep state confiscating legally owned weapons. It is entirely about being safe and trying to stop this incessant loss of life that can be prevented.
The most valuable weapon in our arsenal is not a laser, a nuclear weapon, a missile, or an M1 tank. It is our people.
My hope is that somebody outside the military will understand the intent and reasoning behind these actions. Possibly, they will consider what can be done to stop an epidemic of suicides in our own state. Lives depend on it.
Jim McNamara is a veteran who lives in northern Nevada.
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