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Gun control: Why the US military is fighting with the NRA

US military commanders are trying to cope with an epidemic of suicides within the armed forces.  Officials say they are frustrated by a recent law, backed by the NRA, that makes it difficult to talk to soldiers about personally owned firearms.

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The problem, Chairelli says, is that “we have issues in even being able to do that.” 

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Officials from the Department of Veterans Affairs are backing US military officials in the matter. Commanders who have asked troops they feel are at risk to consider locking their firearms on base temporarily are making use of an important “stalling technique,” Jan Kemp, national mental health director for the VA, said at a conference late last year. 

She pointed to a study that found that a large number of suicides are impulsive events. If someone plans to jump off a bridge and finds that the bridge is closed, “Studies show that they won’t go to another bridge,” says Dr. Kemp. “They will think about it.” 

NRA spokesman Andrew Arulanandam says that the organization is “not conducting interviews at this time, in view of what happened in Colorado.”

Others add that the law is not meant to preclude commanders from talking about firearms. “Obviously, the intent of the law is not to preclude a commander from taking steps necessary to mitigate a suicidal or dangerous situation,” says Jared Young, Communications Director for Sen. Jim Inhofe (R) of Oklahoma, in an email.  Senator Inhofe was the author of the legislation.  Spokesman Young said the senator is “very concerned” about suicide within the military. “At the same time,” he adds, “individual rights must be protected.” 

That said, Mr. Young adds that Sen. Ihofe has “reached out to the DOD and other interested parties to ensure that all concerns have been adequately addressed.”  The Pentagon did not immediately respond to a question about what a changed policy should include. 

In the meantime, some US military commanders say they need to find new ways to address rising rates of suicide. “In many circumstances, awareness of risk means removing firearms from those who we believe are at risk of harming themselves or others,” Brig. Gen. Jonathan Woodson, an Army Reserve physician and Assistant Secretary of Defense for Health Affairs, told the audience at a recent suicide prevention conference. “I would ask all of you at this conference to commit to making reasonable recommendations that will guide uniform policy that will allow the separation of privately-owned firearms from those believed to be at risk of suicide.


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