Retired officers say gun law hinders attempts to curb military suicides

by Steve Vogel, The Weekly Standard  |  published on December 4, 2012


WASHINGTON – A group of senior retired generals and admirals are calling for Congress to amend a recent law that they say “dangerously interferes” with the ability of commanders to battle the epidemic of suicides among members of the military.

Legislation added to the 2011 defense authorization bill at the urging of gun-rights advocates prohibits commanders from collecting any information about weapons privately owned by troops.

Critics say the law prevents commanders from being able to talk to service members about their privately owned weapons – such as encouraging the use of a gunlock or temporary storage away from their homes – even in cases when the commanding officer thinks the service member is at risk for suicide.

“The law is directly prohibiting conversations that are needed to save lives,” states a letter sent last week to members of Congress by a dozen retired officers, including former Army Chief of Staff Gen. Dennis Reimer and former surgeons general for the Army, Air Force and Navy.

“It unnecessarily hampers a commander from taking all possible practical steps for preventing suicide,” one of the signers, Army Lt. Gen. James Dubik, said Saturday. Dubik commanded the Multi-National Security Transition Command in Iraq in 2007 and 2008.

Suicides in the active-duty force are occurring across the services this year at the rate of more than one a day. As of the end of October, the number of suspected suicides by active-duty soldiers in the Army alone had reached 166, one more than the total for last year.

Forty-eight percent of military suicides in 2010 involved privately owned weapons, according to Defense Department statistics. In many instances, the suicides are impulsive acts in which easy availability of a weapon played a key role, several officers who signed the letter said.

Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., is trying to add language amending the law to the Senate version of the 2013 National Defense Authorization Act bill, which is expected to be finalized Monday.

“We’re very hopeful it will be included,” said John Madigan, senior director of public policy for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, a group that has advocated the change.

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