With a bias that conveniently removes the culpability and failures of the federal bureaucracy to help our soldiers and veterans, an “expert” panel recently wrote a report for the Department of Defense (DoD) entitled “Preventing Suicide in the U.S. Military: Recommendations from the Suicide Prevention and Response Independent Review Committee.” The report recommends that the federal government put in place various gun-control measures for our armed forces under the guise of suicide prevention.
The 115-page report recommends everything from weakening shower rods to ensuring people get enough sleep to reduce the number of suicides, and perhaps some, or even many, of those suggestions are worth exploring, but it also lists a series of restrictions on the right to keep and bear arms of service members and DoD contractors that have been proven to be ineffective, or even counterproductive, and that would put an emphasis on reducing freedom, not finding and helping those in need.
These gun-control proposals would, in fact, almost completely strip away our troops’ rights—the very rights they are fighting to preserve. The DoD panel’s proposals include implementing a seven-day waiting period for any firearm purchased on DoD property; raising the minimum age for buying guns and ammunition to 25; developing a national database for recording firearm serial numbers; prohibiting the possession of privately owned firearms not related to the performance of official duties on DoD property by anyone who does not live on DoD property; requiring anyone living on DoD property in military housing to register all privately owned firearms with a base authority; and restricting the possession and storage of privately owned firearms in military barracks and dormitories.
And that is just the beginning of this gun-control slippery slope. The authors of the report also seek changes that would enable the Pentagon to gather information on soldiers’ private firearms, which have nothing to do with their job in the United States Armed Forces or as DoD contractors.
An obvious criticism of this series of proposals is that it is contradictory, wrong and problematic to train individuals to defend our country and to, at the same time, deprive those very individuals of the constitutional liberty to safeguard themselves and their families when they are off-duty.
Blaming guns for mental-health issues is, to be blunt, a convenient dodge for a bureaucracy that many feel has failed to satisfactorily help our soldiers and veterans as they serve and, later, as they readjust to civilian life. Officials can simply claim it’s not their fault, it’s the existence of guns. After all, this is how gun-control activists talk about crime; they pretend that guns—and they make no distinction between those that are legally owned and carried and those that are illegally obtained and carried—somehow cause crimes, not the unlawful individuals who commit the crimes.
This excuse for bans and further restrictions on soldiers’ Second Amendment rights has received a lot of criticism.
“Limiting access to weapons and ammo for 18 to 25 year olds who make up 90% of the infantry ranks, and whose very raison d’être is to engage in close-range combat with guns to destroy enemy ground forces, will not stop suicides,” said Dan O’Shea, a retired Navy SEAL. “The DoD should address the root causes of suicides, not send a contradictory message to the troops that we don’t trust you to own, operate and keep safe the very tools of your trade.”
Indeed, veterans primarily contend that restricting access to firearms outside of work does little to achieve the goal of reducing suicides and runs a high risk of worsening the problem, as it could convince troubled persons not to seek help, since they won’t want their rights permanently taken away just because they sought professional assistance.
“The government will always start where they can assert dominion and control. But this sort of gun control will not stop people from taking their lives with firearms. It could stop people from seeking the help they need and this could ultimately increase the number of suicides,” said Boone Cutler, a former U.S. soldier and founder of the anti-suicide mission known as The Spartan Pledge. “These ‘recommendations’ would take away constitutional rights without the adjudication of a court. They would be counter-
productive all the way around.”
Data Shows This Gun Control Wouldn’t Work
The gun-control argument that dramatically limiting gun access leads to an abrupt drop in suicides falls apart when you examine countries that have some of the most-stringent laws on the planet.
Take Japan, for example. The country’s suicide rate peaked at about 25 per 100,000 people in 2000. In 2021, it was still 16.8 per 100,000 people, according to Japan’s Ministry of Health, Labor, and Welfare. This is higher than the U.S., which in 2021 was estimated to be 14.1 per 100,000, according to The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Most firearms are illegal in Japan, and few citizens own guns, yet it has one of the highest suicide rates globally.
South Korea tells a similar story to Japan’s. In South Korea, the low amount of hunters’ firearms that are in circulation must be stored at local police stations; however, data from the World Health Organization (WHO) shows that South Korea has the highest suicide rate of all developed countries. In South Korea, the number of suicides was 26 per 100,000 in 2021, according to data compiled by Statistics Korea. Suicides in South Korea are typically carried out via drowning, hanging, ingesting poisons or jumping from tall structures. Furthermore, WHO statistics highlight that Austria, Belgium, France, Hungary and Poland all have higher suicide rates than the U.S. even though they have more-stringent gun-control laws than the U.S.
Thus, the DoD’s premise of slashing access to firearms doesn’t hold up to even a basic analysis. It is simply not proven that gun control will significantly reduce suicide rates.
“A gun is just a tool like any other tool. A hammer is great, but I can also kill someone or myself with a hammer. I can jump off a building if I want to jump off a building. I can overdose on heroin or go skydiving and not pull,” said Stokes. “There are so many ways to kill yourself, so targeting firearms is just stripping service members of their rights.”
Real Causes Need to Be Addressed
Many also argue that this taxpayer-funded diatribe about gun control only distracts from the root problem: actually preventing suicides. A gun is merely one of many instruments used by troubled people; it is not the cause. Rather, the seed of suicidal tendencies is complex and manifold, ranging from depression, trauma and isolation to relationship/family troubles, employment and financial pressures. If someone is truly suicidal, removing their gun hardly solves the problem.
“I was badly injured while fighting in Afghanistan,” says Greg Stube, who served in the Green Berets and is the author of Conquer Anything. “While recovering in a hospital, and during many surgeries from injuries from being horribly burned and gutted by shrapnel, like many, I became addicted to pain medication and spent years overcoming that addiction and healing from my massive injuries. So I know physically and psychologically what soldiers can go through. My strong foundation in faith, my family and the brothers I served with all helped me through those horrific times, so I never considered suicide.
But I do understand how low a soldier can sink. And I have counseled a lot of veterans and have given many speeches to veteran groups on these issues and I can tell you that guns are not why some give up. If someone is determined to kill themselves, they’ll find a way. What too often occurs is the bureaucracy misses the signs and isn’t nimble and human enough to really be there and to stay there for these individuals. This is complicated stuff, and it drives me crazy that some want to use this as an excuse to take freedom, as in Second Amendment rights, away from soldiers.”
Many agree with Stube.
“It is stupid, contradictory and insulting to issue young men and women weapons and a chance to die for their country while restricting their ability to buy guns and ammo for their personal use,” said James Williamson, a retired U.S. Special Forces soldier.
“I have counseled a lot of veterans and have given many speeches to veteran groups on these issues and I can tell you that guns are not why some give up.”–Greg Stube, Green Beret (ret.)From his experience, what would be much more beneficial would be to emphasize suicide prevention at the officer level and to de-stigmatize the idea that soldiers sometimes must seek help.
“We also need to educate soldiers to use the buddy system and to look out for each other and recognize any signs of distress; we need to encourage them to report and take intervention action themselves,” said Williamson. “Restricting firearms is a cheap cop-out and a non-starter to a much-greater, and complex, set of problems.”
In fact, according to Matt Tipton, a physician and former U.S. Army Ranger, soldiers are incredibly resourceful, noting “We were trained to be mission-oriented. Once suicide becomes the mission, they will likely be successful. I think, typically, when a soldier or veteran decides to ‘do it,’ it’s well thought out, and they will make it happen.
If I were in charge of suicide reduction, my priority would be better mental-health screening before entry into service. A big problem is that today’s youth often have less coping and social IQ than ever. And we need to destigmatize mental-health service utilization while in the service.
The short answer is that gun control won’t solve veteran suicide, but it could enable a future tyrannical government—having the men and women most able to defend us from tyranny disarmed is pretty bad. Think the Holocaust and the Cambodian killing fields—every genocide in history started with unarmed people.”
From the lens of Del Wilber, a former police officer, U.S. Army soldier and intelligence officer, the problem of suicide in the military often comes down to poor leadership.
“Soldiers will follow a true leader through the gates of hell, but on the opposite side, with poor leaders, there will be discipline problems, substance abuse and ultimately some suicides,” said Wilber. “Will they restrict access to ropes so people can’t hang themselves? This is typical of gun-control advocates, always looking for what to them is the easiest solution, instead of putting forth the hard effort to find proper solutions.”
O’Shea also took aim at the DoD leadership by suggesting a good and hard look at the top-brass could go a long way in improving the motivation and mental health of at-risk military personnel.
“The war on masculinity, which de-arming our soldiers is a byproduct of, has done more damage to the young American military male psyche than more gun-control laws will solve,” O’Shea said. “A feeling of a lack of purpose, meaning and self-worth in one’s day to day is at the root cause of most suicides.”
Other veterans stressed the importance of transforming protocols to enable service members to seek mental-health support without first consulting their chain of command—or worrying that seeking such help could result in a loss of their rights.
President Joe Biden (D) campaigned on the premise of enacting legislation to ban “assault weapons,” including mandatory “buyback” programs and providing “technical and financial assistance to state and local governments to establish effective relinquishment processes on their own.” Moreover, Biden even said he wanted all firearms sold in America to be so-called “smart guns” that theoretically can recognize an approved user—and that, according to the dystopian dream of gun-control activists, could be shut off by the authorities.
“If the U.S. government can restrict access to firearms by a key segment of the U.S. population, besides law enforcement, that relies on guns to do their jobs, then nothing will stop this train wreck of woke ideology from spreading like a virus,” said O’Shea.
Many former service members contacted for this article commented that suicide is a very real and alarming reality within the military and society in general. It is a crisis that requires serious and practical solutions, not merely political punditry and cheerleading from anti-gun activists. Imposing gun control to stop suicide is no different than banning cars to prevent drunk driving; it is a dubious and downright precarious faux answer to make a handful of elites feel good.
“How dare military bureaucrats even consider restricting gun ownership of service members?” said Wilber. “But sadly, this has become a typical military knee-jerk response. If those [recommendations] go ahead, it will not affect suicides, but it will impact already suffering recruitment numbers. What will then become of our national security?”