“Nearly three quarters of the military suicides that occurred between 2008 and 2010 were committed with a personal firearm,” they wrote. “Amending this language would simply reaffirm and clarify the ability of military commanders and those tasked with protecting our service members, who identify someone that may be at risk, to discuss personally-owned weapons and perhaps suggest the safe storage of this weapon in a military facility or even the use of a gunlock. This sensible approach does not attempt to limit an individual’s 2nd amendment rights.”
“So often these suicides are unplanned, so delaying the act, even by a short time can mean the difference between life and death,” Kerry and Johnson’s letter adds. “…The bonds of service are important, especially when an individual is feeling isolated, angry or depressed. That is why it is critical that military commanders have the ability to talk to those at risk about their personal firearms.”
They cite Gen. Peter Chiarelli, former Army vice chief of staff, as stating in a January Christian Science Monitor article, “When you have somebody that you in fact feel is high risk, I don’t believe it’s unreasonable to tell that individual that it would not be a good idea to have a weapon around the house.”
Johnson and Kerry included a letter from former military commanders supporting “fixing this language” about gun rights in the 2011 bill.
“We so often hear that we must listen to military commanders ‘on the ground’ and that those in command know what’s best for our troops,” they wrote. “So let’s listen to what they are saying and protect our men and women in uniform from the deadly threat of suicide.”
This comes on the heels of Senate Republicans’ failed attempt to put language in the defense bill that would have stopped the Veterans Affairs Department from putting the names of vets deemed too mentally incompetent to handle their finances into the National Instant Criminal Background Check System to prohibit them from buying or owning a gun.
Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.) has tried for years to repeal this power of the VA, contending vets should be able to have the registry listing clear a court before being stripped of their gun rights.
Burr’s Veterans Second Amendment Protection Act passed the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee but has never gotten a floor vote.
Backed by 21 co-sponsors, including Democrats Jim Webb (Va.) and Mark Begich (Alaska) and Independent Joe Lieberman (Conn.), the bill amends U.S. Code to clarify the conditions under which a service member may be treated as adjudicated mentally incompetent.
“In any case arising out of the administration by the Secretary of laws and benefits under this title, a person who is mentally incapacitated, deemed mentally incompetent, or experiencing an extended loss of consciousness shall not be considered adjudicated as a mental defective under subsection (d)(4) or (g)(4) of section 922 of title 18 without the order or finding of a judge, magistrate, or other judicial authority of competent jurisdiction that such person is a danger to himself or herself or others.”
Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.), another co-sponsor of the Burr bill, tried to add an amendment with similar language to the defense authorization.
Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) opposed Coburn’s failed effort. “I love our veterans, I vote for them all the time. They defend us,” he said. “If you are a veteran or not and you have been judged to be mentally infirm, you should not have a gun.”