And, of course, it’s the New York Times spreading the rumor along with another usual suspect, Elspeth Ritchie, who accused the military of harboring racist extremists a few months back. In their own article, NYT admits that privately owned weapons aren’t the major method of suicides by returning active duty soldiers;
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 that means that less than 30% of suicides are the result of privately-owned weapons, but for some reason everyone arrives at the conclusion that by limiting soldiers’ access to POWs is some sort of panacea for the problem;
For instance, Dr. Elspeth Cameron Ritchie, a psychiatrist, retired colonel and former mental health adviser to the Army surgeon general, said the Pentagon should aggressively promote gun safety as well as consider making it harder for at-risk troops to buy ammunition and weapons at on-base gun stores.
“At our base stores, they are increasingly having very lovely gun shops where they sell all different types of ammunition and weapons,” Dr. Ritchie said. “I am troubled that on the one hand we are saying we are doing all we can to decrease suicide and on the other making it so easy for service members to buy weapons.”
The key to preventing suicide is convincing veterans that they don’t want to kill themselves, because if they really want to kill themselves, they can always use whatever method the New York Times and Elspeth Ritchie didn’t mention the other 60% were using to kill themselves. I’m assuming that 30% of them are using military-issued weapons, so do we want to take their issue weapons away from them, since they seem to be using those more often that privately owned weapons. Then the Afghan National Police and the Afghan National Army can kill them instead.
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.
And then there’s the suicide hotline operators who call the District of Columbia Metropolitan police when they find out that veterans own guns.
While I agree that a 30% drop in suicides would be great, I disagree that all soldiers should bear the burden. I know when I bought a handgun at Fort Stewart, GA, part of the background check was to call my commander and they cleared the sale with him. That sounds reasonable to me. But, still most people don’t buy a gun just to kill themselves, it just happens to be the most available means.
Like I said, the best way to prevent suicide is education, not heaping the burden on innocent people.