With nearly half of all suicides in the U.S. military committed with a privately owned firearm, Congress and the Pentagon are moving to implement policies that will discourage at-risk members of the armed forces from retaining their personal weapons.
As suicides continue to rise in 2012, the Defence Department officials are developing a suicide prevention campaign, part of which will encourage friends and family of the potentially suicidal to convince the soldiers to give up their weapons.
The Pentagon’s move would be hugely controversial as some lobbyists may construe it as gun control. Gun rights groups – along with many service members themselves – are likely to oppose any policy which could seem to limit a citizen’s private ownership of a firearm.
‘This is not about authoritarian regulation,’ said Dr Jonathan Woodson, the assistant secretary of defence 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 said the campaign would also include measures to encourage friends and family of at-risk soldiers to remove possibly dangerous prescription drugs from their homes, but declined to provide any further details. Another significant step is the fact that Congress appear willing to implement legislation which would allow mental health counsellors and commanders to discuss the issues of privately owned weapons with the troops.
The measure would amend last year’s legislation, that prohibited the Defence Department from collecting information from members of the armed forces about lawfully owned, personal firearms.
The measure was part of the Defence Authorisation Act and was backed by the National Rifle Association. The NRA claimed the provision was in response to efforts by defence officials to maintain records of all firearms owned by their personnel.
The new amendment, which is part of the defence authorisation bill for 2013, has been passed by the House of Representatives but not the Senate. It would allow mental health experts and commanders to ask service members about their private firearms if they have ‘reasonable grounds’ to believe the soldier is at ‘high risk’ of harming himself or others.