I was pleased to see the proposed legislation allowing commanders to ask service members about their personal firearms in the cases where commanders or physicians were worried about suicide risk. I have spoken and written about gun availability on this site and in other forums as the “third rail” in the Department of Defense.
Now this has been overshadowed by the horrific Connecticut shooting with 27 killed, including 20 children. Like all of you, my heart goes out to the families.
Approximately two-thirds of Army suicides die by gunshot. Usually these are legal weapons, either government-issued firearms in the theater of war or personally-owned guns back in the United States.
These issues are not unrelated. Firearm availability is a major issue. Most of the shooters had legal weapons.
Which leads me to another related issue, another tilt at the gargantuan windmill, the National Rifle Association.
The military’s big stores – the the PX, the BX, and the NEX) — are increasingly selling weapons and ammunition.
If you go into the PX (post exchange) at Fort Campbell, Fort Knox, Fort Bliss or many others, you will find an attractive gun counter selling a host of firearms, ranging from pink-handled revolvers to semi-automatic weapons.
Ammunition, of course, is also sold. Tax free.
In my past life, as an Army psychiatrist, I was often asked to consult after a cluster of suicides. At the end to my visits to military bases, I would out-brief my recommendations.
“But they can get the guns right outside of the gate,” they’d respond when I mentioned the possibility of tighter monitoring of troops’ arms.
No doubt this is true. But I wonder about why there are no anti-suicide posters at the gun shops, why you can buy both guns and ammunition on the same day, and why the gun shop employees are not trained in suicide prevention.
It is true that there have been relatively few suicides and murder-suicides resulting from sales at the PX, to the best of my knowledge. After all, they are not tracked that way.
But what kind of message does the military send when it lets our troops buy a gun on post, alongside the Class VI liquor store?
Nothing good, that’s for sure.