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Will Quantico Tragedy Steer Gun-Control Efforts Toward Military?

Policy makers casting suspicious eyes on the states of mind of service members already was a subplot in the broader debate.

by
Bridget Johnson

Bio

March 22, 2013 - 6:17 pm

Lawmakers pressing for stringent gun-control laws have been leaning on the Newtown, Conn., school shooting as proving their points about everything from magazine size to types of weapons that should be owned.

The overnight murder-suicide tragedy at Quantico, though, spotlights a highly charged debate within the broader gun-control policy push — gun ownership by members of the military as policy makers cast suspicious eyes on their states of mind.

The military promises a lengthy investigation of the Quantico incident, which locked down the Marine Corps base in Virginia from 11 p.m. Thursday through early Friday morning.

One active-duty Marine was found dead in a barracks, and another was found shot to death beside the suspected gunman, who died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound.

“This tragedy, as well as the tragedy in Nevada earlier this week, took the lives of Marines who volunteered to serve their nation,” Pentagon spokesman George Little said on behalf of Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel. “His heart and his prayers are with them and their families. He believes that the legendary strength of the United States Marine Corps will ensure that they are forever remembered.”

This afternoon the Defense Department released its monthly suicide data: 11 potential active-duty suicides for February with three confirmed and eight still under investigation. That’s down from 20 potential suicides in January, with seven so far confirmed.

That brings the 2013 total through February to 10 confirmed suicides and 21 still under investigation, and 156 confirmed suicides with 27 still in the hands of investigators for 2012.

Last December, Rep. Hank Johnson (D-Ga.) and then-Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) — citing military suicides — urged their colleagues to include an amendment in the defense authorization bill that would allow military officials to ask service members about their private gun ownership.

“Nearly three quarters of the military suicides that occurred between 2008 and 2010 were committed with a personal firearm,” Johnson and Kerry 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.”

Proponents of imposing greater gun regulations on members of the military cite a 2010 study that found suicides in the Israeli Defense Forces dropped 40 percent in the wake of a 2006 policy requiring soldiers to leave their weapons on base when going home for the weekend. Still, suicide remained the top cause of death for IDF soldiers in 2012.

“The majority of [suicides] have two things in common: alcohol and a gun. That’s just the way it is,” Gen. Peter Chiarelli, the Army’s former Vice Chief of Staff, told the Christian Science Monitor shortly before he retired last year. “And 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.”

Ironically, the House and Senate both held hearings this week on military suicides.

“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.

Bridget Johnson is a veteran journalist whose news articles and opinion columns have run in dozens of news outlets across the globe. Bridget first came to Washington to be online editor at The Hill, where she wrote The World from The Hill column on foreign policy. Previously she was an opinion writer and editorial board member at the Rocky Mountain News and nation/world news columnist at the Los Angeles Daily News. She is an NPR contributor and has contributed to USA Today, The Wall Street Journal, National Review Online, Politico and more, and has myriad television and radio credits as a commentator. Bridget is Washington Editor for PJ Media.

Comments are closed.

Top Rated Comments   


Lets put this at the feet of the real culprit - the war on men. Specifically young white men - and boys. For years the left - with help from public education has been systematically waged war on young white men. Watch an hour of tv - especially the commercials. How many dumb white men did you see? This has been going on for many years now. I went through many 'problems' with my son in middle school. "He fidgets" - "he won't take his hat off during class" - one G-D'ed thing after another. The 'counselor at his school 'demanded' I take him to our Dr. and get a prescription for (CRS!) for him. I told that 'counselor' where she could place that prescription. She was quite miffed but I didn't much care. And at that point I pulled my son out of school and home schooled him for the rest of the school year - about 5 months. I had to register him for the next school year and wouldn't you know it - had to 'go through' that counselor to get him placed. I was present as she proceeded to put my son through his 'paces' - which didn't include algebra since that would not be a subject until the following year - 8th grade. Much to her dismay he sailed through the test she had set up. I asked her to present him with some simple algebraic equations for him to solve. She did - and he solved them. Her response was "well he can solve equations but does he know what it means to solve an equation"? DUH! That was like asking what does it mean to be able to read. Its half the battle - at least.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
All Comments   (14)
All Comments   (14)
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Things seen, experienced, and done in combat will follow you till you die. Learn to live with it or perish, slowly in booze, drugs, crime, or get a sack and do the best you can everyday. No cure, but for 45 years moving forward and not blaming others has served many well, in my generation. The kids will find their way, for the ones that survive .
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Molon Labe !!!
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
The progressives are most likely working toward the insane goal of disarming the military and having obama's "civilian national police force" as the only armed entity.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Restricting firearms doesn't lower the suicide rate. Suicidals simply use a different instrument:

politicalcalculations.blogspot.com/2011/02/us-vs-canada-suicide-edition.html#.UU2gQFcZYct
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Another point: The vast majority, about 75%, of those being evac'ed out of theater due to mental health problems had a history of depression before entering the service. About half of those with suicidal ideation had a history of previous suicidal attempts as a teenager.

We need to do a better job of screening out those who have a history of depression, but I guess that’s not touchy-feely.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Liberals never let a good tragedy go to waste. Right now my unit processes upwards of 5-7 depressed/anxious/suicidal patients out of Afghanistan. We are always bfiefed about seeking help, but I know hat some people who did the right thing, asked for help about being deressed and now will probably lose their guns because of it.

Yeah, our jobs can be stressful, but things like this political bafoonery might make people think twice about seeking help to handle the stress. Mental health is already stigmitized, so losing your property and best ability to defend yourself makes it even worse.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
The left are no respecters of life ... check out the history of any leftist regime; they prefer death, especially when it fits into their hope-killing agenda. Take away hope of "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness" and bingo ... depression and suicide. This, by the way, is the hallmark of Obamacare; its tenticles reach into every aspect of our lives .... ... never in the history of the world has there been a more deceptive way of depressing and enslaving people. Healing of deployment stress is something that is being overlooked; depression and loss of hope in treating it - having nowhere to turn - leads to dealing with it by other means.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Sorry, "...my unit processes upwards of 5-7 depressed/anxious/suicidal patients out of Afghanistan..." that is per week.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment


Lets put this at the feet of the real culprit - the war on men. Specifically young white men - and boys. For years the left - with help from public education has been systematically waged war on young white men. Watch an hour of tv - especially the commercials. How many dumb white men did you see? This has been going on for many years now. I went through many 'problems' with my son in middle school. "He fidgets" - "he won't take his hat off during class" - one G-D'ed thing after another. The 'counselor at his school 'demanded' I take him to our Dr. and get a prescription for (CRS!) for him. I told that 'counselor' where she could place that prescription. She was quite miffed but I didn't much care. And at that point I pulled my son out of school and home schooled him for the rest of the school year - about 5 months. I had to register him for the next school year and wouldn't you know it - had to 'go through' that counselor to get him placed. I was present as she proceeded to put my son through his 'paces' - which didn't include algebra since that would not be a subject until the following year - 8th grade. Much to her dismay he sailed through the test she had set up. I asked her to present him with some simple algebraic equations for him to solve. She did - and he solved them. Her response was "well he can solve equations but does he know what it means to solve an equation"? DUH! That was like asking what does it mean to be able to read. Its half the battle - at least.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
I was sickly in elementary school. I missed lots of classes and got far behind in my classes. The school authorities, looking at my grades, labeled me "retarded". (They weren't so polite back then.) I got better. My parents tutored me at home. Although I caught up to my classmates, I still didn't make good grades, because I was bored and didn't like homework. By 4th grade, I scored high school level in the reading and grammar part of an achievement test. In high school (I nearly failed) I placed in the top 5 for my state for that year when I took my SAT test. I since have earned a master's degree with honors. Parents know their children better than school bureaucrats.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Domestic problems? Was the female plsaying around while her husband was in the middle east?
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Just another front on the war against the second amendment. You know what factor is more common for suicides than alcohol or firearms? Solitude. When I was taking the E-5 leadership class we covered the appropriate actions for someone we felt might be suicidal. The big take-away? Never leave the person alone. EVER.

To the extent that there is a problem with suicide in the military (bear in mind that the military is comprised primarily of young men, the demographic with the highest suicide rate in the general population) it isn't a problem of guns, it's a problem with the E-5/6 and O-2/3 leadership failing to do their damn jobs, knowing their troops, and getting them to the resources they need.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
I would respectfully disagree ... "solitude" is something that we all need from time to time. It's "loneliness" that kills. That's an important difference.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Healthy people need solitude. People who feel trapped or in despair need to be kept from dwelling on their real or imagined problems until time, medication or self resolve the problems. Some people can't work through this process alone.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
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