U.S. military aims to prevent suicides by taking soldiers’ private guns away from them

Read Time:4 Minute, 27 Second

  • Pentagon and  Congress to back policies encouraging the separation of at-risk soldiers from  their private weapons
  • Suicide rate among U.S. military staff rising again in 2012, almost half of those committed with personal firearm
  • Likely to  spark opposition from gun rights groups such as National Rifle  Association

By Alex Horlock

PUBLISHED:03:43 EST, 8  October 2012| UPDATED:03:47 EST, 8 October 2012

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.

Concern: Almost half of all suicides in the U.S military are committed with a private firearm, not service weapons  

Concern: Almost half of all suicides in the U.S military  are committed with a private firearm, not service weapons

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.

Trauma: Congress are taking steps to prevent at-risk soldiers from retaining their private weapons  

Trauma: Congress are taking steps to prevent at-risk  soldiers from retaining their private weapons

The NRA are wary over the moves, and have  said that, although they are happy for the commanders to ask questions of those  they are concerned about, the commanders should not be confiscating  firearms.

‘We’re OK with the commanding officer being  able to inquire,’ said Andrew Arulanandam, a spokesman for the NRA., ‘but they  can’t confiscate.’

Senator James M Inhofe, an Oklahoma  Republican who sponsored the 2011 restrictions, said he would support the new  amendment ‘if it clears up any confusion.’

‘This is a national tragedy that Congress,  all branches of D.O.D. and numerous outside organizations have been working  together to solve,’ Mr Inhofe said.

The Senate is not expected to take the bill  until after the general election.

Suicides in the US military rose rapidly  between 2005 and 2009, and reached 285 active service members, along with 24  reservists in 2009.

Opposition: Gun rights lobbyists are likely to oppose any policy that would result in the confiscation of weapons  

Opposition: Gun rights lobbyists are likely to oppose  any policy that would result in the confiscation of weapons

The numbers plateaued in 2010 and 2011, but  the 2012 figures look set to exceed those of 2009, according to the New York Times.

As of last month, 270 active-duty service  members killed themselves this year alone, and half were from the  Army.

More than six out of 10 military suicides are  by use of firearms, and nearly half of those involve privately owned  guns.

Guns are also the most common method of  suicide among young males across the country.

When troops are identified as high risk,  commanders have the authority to confiscate their service weapons, but under  current legislation they can not ask them to hand over their personal  firearms.

The rising figures are of greater concern to  the military staff considering the efforts from the suicide prevention  campaign.

John Ruocco, a helicopter pilot, killed  himself in 2005 between deployments in Iraq. His wife, Kim, said he felt unable  to seek help.

She said: ‘He was so afraid of how people  would view him once he went for help.’

‘He thought that people would think he was  weak, that people would think he was just trying to get out of redeploying or  trying to get out of service, or that he just couldn’t hack it. In reality, he  was sick.

‘He had suffered injury in combat and he had  also suffered from depression and let it go untreated for years.

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Categories: Control, Inhibiting Self Determination,

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