Of course, military suicides happen because of private guns

| October 7, 2012

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.

Category: Military issues, Veterans Issues

Comments (32)

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  1. Sig says:

    Only the Army believes that the best method of prevention is death by Powerpoint. The Duffel Blog article on suicide prevention was spot on, unfortunately.

    I tell my soldiers that if they’re going to call anybody for help–and if they think they ought to, they should–to lie like a rug about their guns. And my guns.

  2. Jabatam says:

    I’ve never seen guns for sale on a base

  3. Nik says:

    So…people didn’t commit suicide before mankind invented guns?

  4. OWB says:

    So will they also stop prescribing all drugs? Make bed sheets illegal along with neckties, shoestrings and belts?? And not allow anyone to drive any vehicle anywhere at any time? Operations will be limited to that which can be walked to in unlaced boots while manually holding up one’s pants.

    Because if they are really serious, then they must remove ALL potential instruments which could be used for suicide, right?

  5. Nik says:


    If they’re going to do that, they need to repeal the law of gravity.


    Ban all tall bridges, cliffs, deep water, walking in the desert, and vehilces.

    Years ago it was theorized that 10% percent of all single occupant car crashes were suicide. I believe the term was autocide.

    Another ridiculous article from a ridiculed newspaper.

  7. Rock8 says:

    I think this ‘trial-balloon’ article is much more dangerous than some may realize.

    Many Vets own weapons. They are already familiar with guns and have been trained to use them safely and lawfully. And Vets are more often than not responsible, patriotic, and employed.

    I think this is what frightens the libtards & the DHS more than anything. This article is just another spark meant to ignite an anti-gun sentiment, and this time it’s aimed at the MOST RESPONSIBLE users.

  8. 2-17 AirCav says:

    Barely making the editing cut were the last few small paragraphs of the approximately 30-paragraph article in which the elements of the wider approach to suicide prevention were mentioned: alcohol and prescription drugs. No wonder they were buried. This is not about helping the troops. It is about a new angle on gun grabbing or, if not that, making a firearm more difficult to buy for military. Since more than half of military suicides occur among people who never deployed, the suggestion that the combat experience makes for homicidal or suicidal maniacs fails. Thus, it must be the training or, perhaps, the uniform or maybe the haircuts. In any event, the NYT, et alia, would like to see guns out of the hands of those who are most adept at using them—just in case.

  9. Ex-PH2 says:

    And why not kitchen knives? Turkey basters? Water? Yes, you can drink so much water that you drown your brain.

  10. ex-Army doc says:

    @7 may be right.

    One of Jonn’s previous posts called “Smoke and Mirrors at Veterans Affairs” outlined major problems with suicide and the VA’s failure to respond.

    This article may be a liberal two-fer: call for more gun regulation and an attempt to shift attention from the problems with VA care.

  11. AW1 Tim says:

    I learned years ago to never ever ever ask anyone with the VA for help if I was ever feeling the least bit depressed.

    I’ll self-medicate and lie to the VA and everyone else about how frikkin’ happy I am. I do NOT trust the government at any level anymore. That’s a very sad thing to say, but it’s true.

    Don’t trust the government. Never trust a 1-800 “help” line, and never ever ever trust the VA. Go and talk to your friends, your fellow veterans. Talk to your family. But never ever trust anyone outside those circles. They will burn you every single time.

  12. ??? says:

    I have never seen guns sold on base. Army thing?

    Also, comparing the rate and statistical facts of military-based versus civilian-based suicides is illogical. Firstly, the military only represents a fraction of the population, which makes me wonder if they did the actual calculations to find the real numbers.

    Secondly, as a MCIO member I can tell you that the reasons behind suicides are more varied than most people realize. Regardless of method, the catalysts are often not military-centric.

  13. Bill R. says:

    Not all bases sell firearms but some do. Just last week I had an ad from AAFES and there was a gun sale in it. At the bottom of the page was a list of applicable bases. The list included both Army posts and Air Force Bases. The only one I was ever at that had them in the BX was Eielson AFB, AK.

  14. As a civilain copper I delt with dozens of suicides and dozens of attempts. In the cases where we took all the guns from the home, they’d just do it some other way. It’s a shame however they do it, but if we could get the message out to not use guns so the gun grabbing assholes will stop using this as an excuse to take away all guns.

  15. Common Sense says:

    When I was a freshman in college, we had a student commit suicide by hanging himself in his closet with a belt. There was a copy cat a week later who hung herself with a blowdryer cord. Should be ban belts and blowdryers?

  16. Sig says:

    I’d never seen weapons sold on base before, but Fort Lewis now has a pretty nice stand in a corner of the main PX that does a brisk business. It’s been there around a year, though I heard they were sold at the MWR for a while before then. Pistols, rifles, shotguns, and accessories for same. Even with tax, however, it’s cheaper to head off post most of the time.

  17. SFC Holland says:

    Fort Benning has a nice gun counter. I tried for a week to buy a gun there. There were so many rules, and so much nonsense from the people working the counter that I eventually told them to go fuck themselves. I drove down to Exit four A-1 Pawnshop, and had the exact same, new in box gun half an hour later, and it cost 12 more dollars. Yeah, they want to show you the guns, but they don’t want to sell any. I buy most of my guns at pawnshops and gun shows anyway, and I never register them on post or tell the leadership about them. That’s asking for even more trouble. Same reason young soldiers keep motorcycles off post, so they don’t have to register them on post or be made to feel like a criminal for riding a bike by the Army.

  18. BK says:

    I’m sure this is an issue that has touched all of us at varying points. My good friend stuck his personally-owned sidearm in his mouth immediately after a traffic accident.
    He was with the Marines in the first Gulf War, went with our Guard Stryker brigade to Iraq, and then volunteered immediately upon coming home to go to Afghanistan with another of our Guard units. He came home, and three months later, he took his own life.
    And it wasn’t even PTSD. To anyone who knew the guy, it was disassociation. The dude came alive in uniform, and suddenly he was back to life as a part-time cop that couldn’t score full-time hours. He was already a hard-drinking man, and that held consequences in his professional civilian life.
    Taking his guns wouldn’t have solved the problem. I truly, truly believe that in the DoD’s rush to apply boilerplate, sweeping solutions (“he’s a vet, it must be PTS!”), buttressed by the media’s fruit-fly-like attention span, allows so many of these guys to walk through undetected because we end up focused on the obvious. Holy cow, it feels so obvious to all of us touched by it; it’s not specifically PTS, but rather, reconciling service with “everything else.”
    Taking guns feels punitive, as you say so eloquently above, and I would argue that while it may diminish an avenue for suicide, such restrictions would feel like another encroachment on a potential suicide’s already delicate mental state.
    G-d knows I wish there was an answer to all of this, so our guys and gals would know only joy.

  19. BK says:

    And sorry, I got so choked up about thinking about my old friend, that I realized I lost sight of another point – what does on-post gun sale restrictions do at all to touch the high reservist suicide rate?

  20. Eric says:

    I went to JRTC and Ft Polk was selling guns in their PX, they even had some pink ones I was assuming was for the ladies…(before the repeal, nowadays who knows.)

    With this “doctor’s” same logic, I deduce that:

    Women become prostitutes because they have vaginas, so women should turn in their privately owned vaginas to prevent prostitution…

  21. Nik says:

    Wait. People still go to Detroit? Willingly, or like if they lose a bet or something?

    The little bits about Detroit we get out on the Left Coast paint it almost like a Mad Max landscape with less Australian accent and more violence.

  22. Green Thumb says:


    A very sad story. I hope people will take notice from tragedies such as your experience.

    You have a very valid point in that there is “no one size fits all solution”.

    Very sad indeed.

    Thank you for sharing.

  23. Nik says:

    BAH. Belay the above. Wrong article.

  24. Detn8r says:

    As a Army MP between 1982-1989 I was stationed with or on major infantry bases. I saw and worked quite a few suicides (8) and only 2 were suicide by lead poison. Three were in Korea 1, hanged himself and the other two died of carbon monoxide poisoning. I have known about many others and the use of a firearm rarely entered the scene. I am not saying that it doesn’t happen, just, I did not witness it as much.

    John is correct, education and watching your buddy is the most affective way to curb the current trend. I am not sure what this “Ritchie D1pSh!t” believes and frankly think she is clueless to what the real problem is.

  25. J.M. says:

    Who decides the criteria for taking away a gun and is the final authority, BDE, BN, or CO CDR?

    My Bn has a Co Cdr that will send a Soldier to be escorted for a mental eval for the smallest justification. I shudder to think of someone like that having the authority to confiscate a Soldiers personal weapons just because Joe got a dear john email from his girl back home and a nosy CPT thinks he’s ‘at risk’ with no justification.

  26. Anonymous says:

    Left/libtard tourette’s sydrome: Gun control, gun control, control… solves everything!

  27. MCPO #2 says:


    Military suicides: Defense officials spending $10 million to learn if fish oil can help
    By Bill Briggs, NBC News contributor

    The Department of Defense is hoping that two new weapons – big money and little oil – can curb the rising military suicide rate.

    A three-year, $10 million study, to be funded by the Department of Defense and conducted at the Medical University of South Carolina, will test whether omega-3 fatty acids found in fish oils can relieve the anxieties and quiet the suicidal thoughts plaguing many combat veterans, one of the lead researchers said Monday.

  28. Williams says:

    25Detn8r do you have an email address that I could contact you? I’m a Afghan vet 08/09. had a few questions about your time in Korea as an MP. My uncle was there the same time as you and he was An MP. thanks Williams jdgwilliams2012@gmail.com.