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A Pentagon advisory committee is recommending waiting periods and other gun restrictions for service members to help reduce suicides in the armed forces.
Among the nearly 130 recommendations in a report last week from the Suicide Prevention and Response Independent Review Committee are: a seven-day waiting period for gun purchases on bases and other Department of Defense property as well as a four-day waiting period for ammunition purchases there, a raise in the minimum age for buying firearms there, from 18 to 25, and the repeal of a 2013 law that bars the military from tracking gun purchases.
According to ABC News, in 2021, 519 service members died from suicide, a decrease from 582 in 2020, the Pentagon has said.
Though there was a drop in 2021, suicides in the military have been gradually increasing since 2011, according to the Department of Defense, mirroring a nationwide trend.
Margaret Kelley, a professor at the University of Kansas who has researched gun ownership trends and more, said “Our research shows that it’s combat veterans in particular who are more likely to be in favor of some of these restrictions. There’s something about the particular military experience that changes these attitudes.”
Statistics show about two-thirds of all military personnel and veterans who die by suicide use a gun, said Craig Bryan, an Air Force veteran and clinical psychologist with an expertise in suicide prevention.
According to Stars & Stripes, about half of those who die by suicide have a mental health condition, Bryan said. That statistic holds true in the military as well and was thought to exist because of the apprehension among service members to seek out mental health care, he said.
However, Bryan said there’s a significant percentage of people who are experiencing an extreme reaction to a moment of severe stress, such as relationship problems, financial strain and legal issues.
“They get stressed really fast, they get overwhelmed and particularly if they have access to a highly lethal methods like a loaded weapon, that transient temporary moment of despair is weaponized,” he said. “Most of us have experienced this before. We’ve lost our temper. … We’ve made a decision that we wish we can take back. I think for many people, this is how they experience suicide risk, and it doesn’t require a mental illness to have those types of natural human responses.”
In the National Guard that statistic is closer to 80%, said Bryan, who is also a member of the Defense Department committee.
Congress mandated the Pentagon review suicide prevention in the 2022 National Defense Authorization Act.
“While we are cautiously encouraged by the drop in these numbers, one year is not enough time to assess real change,” Beth Foster, the executive director of the Pentagon’s Force Resiliency Office, told reporters in October when the report was released.
For additional resources relating to veteran suicide prevention, visit the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs website, or call 988 and select 1 to talk to speak with a crisis responder.