“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.” That sounds reasonable. Until you think about it. If “nearly half” of soldiers who commit suicide don’t use privately owned firearms, why isn’t the military focusing on the methodology used by the majority? Also, did you catch the word “intended” (not much confidence there) and the passive use of the word separate (without revealing who’s doing the separation and how). Exhibit C: the article appears in the New York Times, one of our least favorite bastions of gun rights. So, a message to the troops and the NRA: this not the psychological help you’re looking for. To wit . . .
As suicides continue to rise this year, senior Defense Department officials are developing a suicide prevention campaign that will encourage friends and families of potentially suicidal service members to safely store or voluntarily remove personal firearms from their homes.
“This is not about authoritarian regulation,” said Dr. Jonathan Woodson, the assistant secretary of defense for health affairs. “It is about the spouse understanding warning signs and, if there are firearms in the home, responsibly separating the individual at risk from the firearm.”
Dr. Woodson, who declined to provide details, said the campaign would also include measures to encourage service members, their friends and their relatives to remove possibly dangerous prescription drugs from the homes of potentially suicidal troops.
When it comes to defending Constitutional rights, words mean so much. For example, how does one “responsibly separate” an at-risk individual from a firearm? And where does Uncle Sam get off enlisting friends and family to confiscate firearms from soldiers’ homes? What is that if not gun confiscation by proxy?
[Note: removing guns from a soldier’s access is not one of those “friends don’t let friends drive drunk” deals. Driving is not a civil right. This campaign is more akin to the government asking friends and family to make sure that their friends and family are intelligent enough to vote. Or speak at a public meeting.]
Hey! Where’s the NRA in all this?
In another step considered significant by suicide-prevention advocates, Congress appears poised to enact legislation that would allow military mental health counselors and commanders to talk to troops about their private firearms. The measure, which is promoted by the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, would amend a law enacted in 2011 that prohibited the Defense Department from collecting information from service members about lawfully owned firearms kept at home.
The 2011 measure, part of the Defense Authorization Act and passed at the urging of the National Rifle Association, was viewed by many military officials as preventing commanders and counselors from discussing gun safety with potentially suicidal troops. But the N.R.A. said that the provision was a response to efforts by Army commanders to maintain records of all the firearms owned by their soldiers.
Careful. The Defense Authorization Act doesn’t prevent the Defense Department from asking about guns. It bars them from collecting information about soldiers’ private arsenals. As well it should; all government agencies are barred from maintaining ANY firearms registration under the 1986 Firearms Owners Protection Act (FOPA):
No such rule or regulation prescribed after the date of the enactment of the Firearms Owners Protection Act may require that records required to be maintained under this chapter or any portion of the contents of such records, be recorded at or transferred to a facility owned, managed, or controlled by the United States or any State or any political subdivision thereof, nor that any system of registration of firearms, firearms owners, or firearms transactions or disposition be established.
The “you can ask but not note” system was a bit clunky— trusting the Army to ask about soldiers’ guns and not register is a bit like trusting Brooklyn Decker to do your taxes. But that’s the way it was. Now, oh dear.
The new amendment, part of the defense authorization bill for 2013 that has been passed by the House of Representatives but not by the Senate, would allow mental health professionals and commanders to ask service members about their personal firearms if they have “reasonable grounds” to believe the person is at “high risk” of committing suicide or harming others.
“We’re O.K. with the commanding officer being able to inquire,” said Andrew Arulanandam, a spokesman for the N.R.A., “but they can’t confiscate.”
So, under the new act, military officials can have a conversation with a potentially suicidal soldier about weapons, ammunition and location and make records of the responses. And ask friends and family to do their
the dirty work of confiscation perform a life-saving “firearms intervention.”
File this one under “something must be done even if sets a bad precedent and violates gun rights.” Equally, at the risk of seeming callous, is this a solution in search of a problem?
Suicides in the military rose sharply from 2005 to 2009, reaching 285 active duty service members and 24 reservists in 2009. As the services expanded suicide prevention programs, the numbers leveled off somewhat in 2010 and 2011.
But this year, the numbers are on track to outpace the 2009 figures, with about 270 active duty service members, half of them from the Army, having killed themselves as of last month.
According to Defense Department statistics, more than 6 of 10 military suicides are by firearms, with nearly half involving privately owned guns. In the civilian population, guns are also the most common method of suicide among young males, though at a somewhat lower rate.
So roughly 30 percent of some 400 soldiers who commit suicide do so with a privately owned gun (theirs?). I make that 120 soldiers out of 565,463 active Army personnel.
For that Uncle Sam should trample on FOPA (again, still), allow the military to poke its nose into soldiers’ Second Amendment rights and encourage civilians to confiscate privately held weapons from soldiers according to criteria determined by the U.S. Military? And what about the law of unintended consequences?
In the Department of Veterans Affairs, mental health counselors and suicide hot line agents routinely encourage suicidal veterans to store their guns or give them to relatives. But the issue remains difficult, with concerns that some veterans avoid mental health care because they fear their firearms will be confiscated.
“It is sensitive,” said Jan Kemp, the department’s national suicide prevention coordinator. “We don’t in any way want to imply that we would want to take people’s right to bear firearms away.”
Too bad Kemp’s COs, the Congress and the NRA don’t see the connection between their proposed proactive policy and making the problem of soldiers’ mental health worse. [h/t Dan Baum]