Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin is calling on the Pentagon to hire more mental health workers and directing military-run health care clinics to screen for alcohol abuse in order to reduce veteran suicides, but he’s holding off on implementing several anti-gun proposals recommended by the Suicide Prevention and Response Independent Review Committee, at least for a few more months.
That committee is recommending the Defense Department institute a seven-day waiting period for all gun sales on DoD property, along with a four-day waiting period for ammunition purchases. In addition, the committee says the Pentagon should raise the age to purchase a firearm on base to 25-years-old. On Thursday Austin called for the creation of a suicide prevention working group that will look at how feasible it would be to implement the committee’s recommendations, with a deadline of June 2nd for the working group to submit its findings.
His orders reflect increasing concerns about suicides in the military, despite more than a decade of programs and other efforts to prevent them and spur greater intervention by commanders, friends and family members. But his omission of any gun safety and control measures underscores the likelihood that they would face staunch resistance, particularly in Congress, where such legislation has struggled in recent years.
Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder, the Pentagon press secretary, told reporters in a briefing Thursday that Austin’s orders involved areas where the department already has the authority to take immediate steps.
“While we recognize that suicide has no single cause, and that no single preventative action, treatment or cure will eliminate suicide altogether, we will exhaust every effort to promote the wellness, health and morale of our total force,” Ryder said.
The initial study committee recommended that the department require anyone living in military housing to register all privately owned firearms. In addition, the panel said the department should restrict the possession and storage of privately owned firearms in military barracks and dorms.
Reducing veteran and active duty suicides is an incredibly important goal, but the draconian gun control policies recommended by the committee are liable to create a backlash; not only on Capitol Hill but among many military members and potential recruits, at least if Austin moves forward with implementing them. The military is already struggling to meet its recruiting goals, and imposing a host of anti-gun restrictions on active-duty and reserve members would likely make those problems a lot worse.
That helps to explain why Austin didn’t immediately move to implement those proposals, but choosing to kick this can down the road for a couple of months rather than reject the gun control components of the suicide prevention recommendations means that these bad ideas could still become a nightmare for members of the military before long. Instead of trying to restrict the Second Amendment rights of our men and women in uniform, I hope that Austin’s working group takes a look at some of the efforts to prevent veteran suicide taking place within the 2A community, starting with the Sentinel app that was recently awarded a $1-million dollar grant from the VA. The app was developed by D.C. Project member Kathleen Gilligan, who lost her own son to suicide a decade ago, and aims to help veterans look out for each other.
The app itself has several components, and one of its strengths is its customization. One of the goals of the app is encouraging veterans to store their firearms safely, but its backbone is a veteran-specific community support network that allows and encourages veterans to look out for each other.
“We tie safe storage of firearms into a safety team of trusted fellow veterans, family, and friends,” Gilligan explained in an interview with Bearing Arms. “Sentinel allows real-time alerts whenever a firearm is unlocked if it’s connected to the Sentinel system. You can choose to let your buddies know you’re unlocking your firearm. That could be anything from ‘I’m unlocking it because I’m going to the range’, a break-in, or ‘I’m feeling suicidal and I want to end my life.’”
But users of the Sentinel app don’t have to use this feature if they don’t want to. Gilligan spoke to many veterans and gun owners as she and her partner were designing the app, and quickly realized that customization was key if she was going to get buy-in from the community.
As a result, the Sentinel app allows for multiple settings for veterans to pick and choose from when it comes to firearms storage. The electronic locking devices are one option, but Gilligan says that users can also simply receive an alert if any unlocked firearms are accessed when they’re not around.
“We don’t need any more laws. We know that, right? I’m a Second Amendment protector. I’m the Washington State director for the D.C. Project, which is women for gun rights. But what we all recognize is that veterans know that a firearm is going to work. If they want to end their life they know that’s going to work. So we have to say we know that vets love their firearms, we know that we should have them, we know that they can do a lot of good for us including protecting our homes. But just being willing to blow up that conversation and say “look, let’s just be real about it. Let’s talk about veteran suicide and what it means when you have a firearm in their home. And let’s let them decide, with their trusted peers, or their family, or their fellow vets, how they want to be safe. That’s really the crux of the project.”