Pentagon’s Strategies to Enhance Safety on Military Bases and Prevent Suicide

Pentagon's Strategies to Enhance Safety

Pentagon’s Strategies to Enhance Safety on Military Bases and Prevent Suicide

The Pentagon’s independent suicide prevention review body has recommended restricting gun access on military bases to reduce suicides in the military, according to a report released by the Suicide Prevention and Response Independent Review Committee (SPRIRC) on Friday (Shore News Network, 2023). The SPRIRC found that military suicide rates continue to climb and a majority of suicides in the military involve firearm use, while problems with alcohol abuse and finances were also leading indicators (Shore News Network, 2023).

One of the primary recommendations of the SPRIRC is to repeal a provision in Congress’ 2013 defense bill that blocked commanders from inquiring about off-base firearms (Shore News Network, 2023). Many commanders feel “handcuffed” from “being able to know who was at elevated risk and to properly assess the safety of their subordinates and personnel” due to the law, according to Dr. Craig Bryan, a member of the working group (Shore News Network, 2023).

The commission also recommends building firearm storage facilities outside of barracks and raising the minimum age for purchasing firearms and ammunition on military bases to 25 years (Shore News Network, 2023). According to the commission, the age of 25 appears to be an “inflection point” as firearm use increases after the age of 21, while most suicides occur in members below the age of 25 (Shore News Network, 2023).

The SPRIRC’s policies are intended to “slow down access to firearms so that people can in excess survive periods of high risk,” said Dr. Bryan (Shore News Network, 2023). Research has shown that people who have access to guns are more likely to reach for them when under periods of intense distress, the commission found (Shore News Network, 2023).

The 2013 National Defense Authorization Act prohibits military leaders from maintaining records of which servicemembers lawfully acquired or used firearms, a law intended to safeguard military members’ Second Amendment rights. However, the commission found that many commanders felt “handcuffed” from “being able to know who was at elevated risk and to properly assess the safety of their subordinates and personnel” due to the law (Shore News Network, 2023).

The SPRIRC also found that suicide prevention training was often poorly administered and on-base psychologists felt overworked, a problem exacerbated by slow hiring (Shore News Network, 2023). The department’s hierarchical structure can prevent the right people from entering the right positions to administer to servicemembers who show increased risk of suicide, according to the report (Shore News Network, 2023).

Suicide in the military has increased over a 15-year period despite the Department of Defense’s ongoing efforts to root out and address causes, according to the SPRIRC (Shore News Network, 2023). The DOD’s separate Defense Suicide Prevention Office found in its latest annual report that active-duty suicides continue to trend upward, with the Army reporting 176 suicides in 2021, up from 174 in 2020 and just 145 the year before (Shore News Network, 2023).

In particular, the SPRIRC found that two-thirds of suicides among the active-duty population used firearms to take their own lives, and that number was 72% for members of the Reserve and 78% for National Guardsmen (Shore News Network, 2023). In the general public, roughly half of suicides were committed using guns.

Dr. Bryan stressed that the policies are not “strategies for gun control, but they are strategies for enhancing safety,” and that the military would be largely on board with the recommendations (Shore News Network, 2023).

Furthermore, the committee also recommended raising the minimum age for purchasing firearms and ammunition on military bases to 25 years as the age of 25 appeared to be an “inflection point;” firearm use increases after the age of 21, while most suicides occur in members below the age of 25. The commission also suggested building firearm storage facilities outside of barracks, which would provide a safer and more secure storage location for firearms.

In conclusion, military suicide rates continue to climb despite the Department of Defense’s ongoing efforts to address the causes. The SPRIRC report offered recommendations to reduce the accessibility of guns on military bases while preserving servicemembers’ rights to carry. Although the policies are not strategies for gun control, they are strategies for enhancing safety. The Pentagon’s independent suicide prevention review body has a plan to reduce suicides in the military that involves restricting gun access on military bases, according to the SPRIRC report.

References:

Shore News Network. (2023, February 25). Pentagon wants to crack down on gun ownership on military bases to prevent suicide. https://www.shorenewsnetwork.com/2023/02/25/pentagon-wants-to-crack-down-on-gun-ownership-on-military-bases-to-prevent-suicide/

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