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MILITARY: Easy gun access aids suicide

Letter by Christopher Staeheli, Tacoma on Dec. 7, 2012 at 10:06 am | No Comments »
December 7, 2012 12:47 pm

Let’s hope the military heard Bob Costas’ statement on easy access to guns and increased risk of suicide, dispelling the myth that suicide is premeditated. Reducing quick access to lethal means is the number one way to reduce suicide. This approach is ignored by the military.

The 2011 Rand study “Preventing Suicide in the Military” identified addressing access to lethal means as a key element of a successful suicide prevention program, yet across the services this is not done. The former head of the Army’s suicide prevention program, General Chiarelli (like Costas) identified the most frequent factors in soldier suicide being the combination of alcohol, relationship issues and easy access to a gun.

In 2011, Admiral Mullens called for a policy addressing restricting access to lethal means (weapons) for those identified as “high risk.” Unfortunately, most suicide victims were never “high risk” until they got in an argument while drinking with a loaded gun down the hall.

The 2011 Defense Authorization Act limits discussion of gun possession to only those soldiers being seen by mental health professionals. Put in perspective, this prevention strategy is like discussing condom use only with those who already have a sexually transmitted disease.

Responding to 2012’s 13 percent increase in suicides, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta issued a memo on suicide prevention calling for “doing everything possible to prevent suicides in the military.” Surprisingly, September’s Military Suicide Awareness Month talking points did not include reducing access to lethal means. The Defense Suicide Prevention Office should hire Costas.

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