A little noticed amendment added to the 2011 National Defense Authorization Act currently prohibits the Pentagon from gathering any information from service members about lawfully owned firearms kept at home. Officers aren’t so much as allowed to discuss personal firearms and gun safety with their service members who they believe to be at risk of suicide. The very conversations that are needed to save lives are prohibited.
Such a provision is as dangerous as it is nonsensical, which is why I joined 11 of my fellow retired officers in calling on Congress to repeal it. As former commanders, we believe that these restrictions not only endanger lives but also denigrate the solemn duty to protect the well-being of our troops.
We are also joined in our concern by many leaders in our nation, including General Peter Chiarelli, former Army vice chief of staff, who told the Christian Science Monitor in January:
“When you have somebody that you in fact feel is high risk, I don’t believe it’s unreasonable to tell that individual that it would not be a good idea to have a weapon around the house.”
We were pleased to see that the Republican-controlled House has already backed an end to this unwise restriction on commanding officers. We and the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention continue to press Congress to end this restriction.
We were also pleased to see that the National Rifle Association, which originally pushed for passage of this measure, and Republican Sen. James InhofeJames InhofeFight over water bill heats up in Senate Trump taps Oklahoma attorney general to lead EPA Dem senator tears up in farewell speech MORE of Oklahoma, who originally sponsored it, have recently said they will not get in the way of ending this restriction.
We know this measure has overwhelming bipartisan support and urge the Conferees to move the NDAA out of conference with language that allows our commanding officers to take care of their men and women. It would be a travesty if Congress fails to act.
To be clear, there are a host of issues surrounding military suicides that need to be addressed. The fog of war and the chaos of the combat theater often give rise to an overwhelming sense of emotional distress in our troops. The memories of gunfire and IEDs exploding don’t easily fade from their minds.
Accordingly, a range of actions are necessary to help our service members and their families cope with the stresses of warfare. But in the immediate future, we can begin the process and save lives by appealing to our better judgment and ensuring commanding officers can talk freely to their troops when they are concerned about their welfare. We owe our men and women in uniform nothing less.
Xenakis, a psychiatrist and retired brigadier general, served 28 years in the United States Army as a medical corps officer. He is currently an adjunct clinical professor at the Uniformed Services University of Health Sciences.
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