FEBRUARY 28, 2023

Demilitarization of the Military

As pro-gun groups continue to win lawsuits nationwide that overturn rules and regulations designed to make lawful ownership difficult -if not downright impossible- a new study forwarded to me last week had me doing a double take.

No, it wasn’t another report on the origins of COVID-19…that’s this generation’s Warren Commission Report. There will never be a clear answer to either question that will be acceptable to everyone.

This latest piece of “rigorous investigation” came to the conclusion that the Defense Department should implement a series of “gun safety measures” to reduce suicides in our “armed” forces.

Among their suggestions:

  • raising the minimum age for service members to buy guns and ammunition to 25,
  • require the registration of anyone living in military housing to register all privately owned firearms,
  • restrict the possession and storage of privately owned firearms in military barracks and dormitories.
  • waiting periods for the purchase of guns and ammunition by service members on military property.

The Suicide Prevention and Response Independent Review Committee was formed by Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin in May of last year to study the issue of military suicide. The recommendations are only three of the 127 overall recommendations. Additionally, the Committee recommended the Defense Department take steps to “slow down” troops access to guns - more specifically those bought in stores on bases -so “people under stress” can survive periods of high risk.

Their rationalization for the involuntary curtailment of that pesky 2A thing? Requirements the DoD puts on motorcycle use -mandated helmets- which are “often more strict than some state laws.”

One member of the committee said that troops should be “more receptive to such limits than civilians may be.” In other words, orders is orders and soldiers are trained -rigorously- to obey them.

The limit of personal firearms until age 25 was, ostensibly, driven by “historical patterns and data” that showed more than half off military suicides happen between ages 21 and 25. And the use of guns for suicides by service members -particularly men- increased after age 21.

In the same recommendations, the committee concluded that alcohol use and financial problems are often connected to suicides. Naturally, it concludes, the department should fix pay systems to avoid delays and address excessive alcohol use.

And that “complex and rigid hierarchical structure” of the military…well, these mental health experts feel that impedes the ability to “do” effective suicide prevention.

To someone my age who recalls outraged drill instructors when they were told corporal punishment as a “motivational technique” was no longer acceptable, this reads as something that might be written by The Babylon Bee under a headline reading “Military to Add Rigorous and Mandatory Warm Milk and Cookies Regimen to Basic Training” -but it’s not.

And my intent is definitely not to make fun of the serious issue of suicides in the military - or anywhere else.

It is not a joking matter. But it is, however, an area where the NSSF has worked alongside mental health professionals to try and create effective ways to prevent suicides with firearms.

The problem, unfortunately, isn’t the means of suicides - it’s recognition and intervention before a person is driven to that point.

That’s a mental health issue.

The recommendations of Secretary Austin’s Independent Review Committee also ignores an important fact: suicides in the active-duty military declined from 2021 through June 2022. There were sharp drops in the Air Force and Marine Corps last year -and a similar decline among Army soldiers during the first six months of 2022. Those numbers, FYI, are from the Pentagon, not the “independent review committee.”

We’ll doubtless see this “study” cited as a recommendation for actions by the DoD to further restrict weapons on military bases. It will likely also be the basis for more innocuously-titled piece of legislation ultimately designed to disarm “average Joes”- beginning with Joes of the G.I. variety.

We’ll keep you posted.

— Jim Shepherd