For some reason, retired generals Dennis J. Reimer and Peter W. Chiarelli thought they had something important to say today in the Washington Post. They decided that we wanted to hear from them on the subject of the troops’ guns and disguised it as concern about the suicide rate;
One of the most effective measures of suicide prevention is to ask those perceived to be under duress: “Do you have a gun in your home?” If the answer is yes, we might then suggest that the individual put locks on the weapon or store it in a safe place during periods of high stress — things that any responsible gun owner should do.
Unfortunately, that potentially lifesaving action is no longer available to the military. A little-noticed provision in the 2011 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) has had the unintended consequence of tying the hands of commanders and noncommissioned officers by preventing them from being able to talk to service members about their private weapons, even in cases where a leader believes that a service member may be suicidal.
Why would a commander need to know if a soldier had a gun in their home unless it was that commander’s intention to relieve that soldier of his weapon? Because, instead of asking a soldier if he owns a gun, a commander would simply need to tell that soldier that “if” he owned a gun, perhaps he should lock it up away safely. Asking me if I own a gun would only force me to lie.
How many hypothetical circumstances do commanders present to their units in weekly safety briefings? Why not just tell the entire unit to lock their guns away safely – if safety briefings work, like commanders seem to think they do, that should be sufficient.
As we’ve discovered here, less than half of suicides committed with a gun are committed with a personal weapon. So it seems that commanders would do well to keep soldiers at risk away from their service weapons. In fact, if the statistics are to be believed, they could cut suicides in half by doing that. So why aren’t these two generals advocating for that action rather than pursuing privately owned weapons – if all that needs to be done to prevent suicides is to take weapons from the troops.
Will commanders also be asking the troops if they have a length of rope or razor blades at home? If the soldiers reply in the affirmative, will they be advised to lock their ropes and razor blades somewhere safe?
I guess it’s just easier to blame the troops’ guns than it is to just get them the treatment they deserve.