Sixty-five percent of the more than 300 suicides among active-duty members of the military in 2017 involved a gun, according to a new Department of Defense report.
The DoD report follows a June 2019 study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, that found that “firearm accessibility was associated with a significant increase in the risk of suicide” in the psychological autopsy of 135 soldiers.
The study concluded that “discussion and counseling associated with the separate storage of guns and ammunition and limiting the public carrying of firearms” might help reduce the risk of suicide.
Together, the two reports findings are prompting a renewed discussion among federal lawmakers and Pentagon analysts about limiting access to firearms within the military as a means of reducing suicide rates, according to Military.com.
There’s reason to believe such a measure would be effective. As the Virginia Mercury reports, public health researchers have advised limiting gun access as a way to reduce suicides. According to the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, studies have found that “when lethal means are made less available or less deadly, suicide rates by that method decline”
The two reports paint a clear picture of the role firearms play in military suicides, and have particular significance for Virginia. The commonwealth has 129,399 active duty military members as of March 2019, second only to California, according to the Department of Defense.
While state-level numbers for suicides of active-duty members are unavailable, 196 veterans in Virginia committed suicide in 2016, and 70% of those suicides involved a firearm, according to the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs.nothing has been done at the state level to limit accessibility to firearms.
In 2017, Republicans in the General Assembly passed legislation allowing anyone with a valid military ID to carry a concealed firearm without a permit, but then-Gov. Terry McAuliffe vetoed the bill.
Limiting access to firearms may prove unpopular among the military community, but the DoD numbers indicate that firearms increase the likelihood of a fatal suicide attempt for soldiers who are experiencing suicidal ideations.
While drug and alcohol overdose accounted for 55.5% of the nearly 1,400 non-fatal suicide attempts that year, they accounted for only 2.6% of fatal suicides. Conversely, firearms were responsible for 65.4% of fatal suicides and only 4% of non-fatal suicide attempts, meaning active-duty service members who attempted suicide using a gun were far more likely to have their suicide attempt be fatal.
If you are a service member or veteran in crisis or you’re concerned about one, please contact The Veterans Crisis Hotline at 800-273-8255 and Press 1 to speak to someone. You can also start a chat session at VeteransCrisisLine.net/Chat or send a text message to 838255. The hotline is open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year.