“The one that I think you can maybe, you know, get your head around a little bit is the factor that at least 10 percent, as we know, in the service have perhaps access to guns at a greater level than in the general population,” said Rep. Susan Davis (D-Calif.), ranking member on the House Armed Services subcommittee on Military Personnel, at a Thursday hearing. “And the fact that we have the literature indicating that restricting access to means — firearms, of course — is an effective strategy for preventing suicides.”
Jacqueline Garrick, acting director of the Defense Suicide Prevention Office, said the majority of suicides “were completed by Caucasian males below 29, enlisted and high-school educated. In some cases, relationship, legal or financial issues were present.”
“Service members primarily used firearms and died at home,” she continued. “They did not communicate their intent, nor did they have known behavioral health histories. Less than half had deployed and few were involved in combat.”
Garrick told the committee that about 75,000 gun locks have been distributed through a Safe at Home program and said they’re in the process of working with the defense reauthorization that “just gave us some really good clarifying language on who can, when can you ask about personally owned firearms, ammunition and other weapons.”
“And so, we are working on a guidance for that so that we can get that information out to the services and make sure that everybody, that the clinicians as well as the commanders, are tracking that on what you can do,” she said. “So, I think, that was an important step for us.”
Chairman Joe Wilson (R-S.C.), though, was not so much on the train of thought that firearms ownership kills soldiers as sequestration might.
“Unfortunately, in addition to the hardships of military service, our service members are subject to the same pressures that challenge the rest of society,” he said. “…I’m deeply concerned about the uncertainty of sequestration and the coming budget challenges, how that will affect our service members and their families.”
Earlier this month, the Department of Veterans Affairs announced it wouldn’t comply with New York’s new Secure Ammunition and Firearms Enforcement Act that requires mental health professionals to report those they believe may hurt themselves or others for the purpose of taking away that person’s weapons.
“Federal laws safeguarding the confidentiality of veterans’ treatment records do not authorize VA mental-health professionals to comply with this NY State law,” VA spokesman Mark Ballesteros said.
Last Congress, Senate Republicans failed to get 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.
“All I am saying is, let them at least have their day in court if you are going to take away a fundamental right given under the Constitution,” Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) said.