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Pentagon starting new gun safety suicide prevention campaign

A handgun being placed in a lock box. (U.S. Air Force Photo/Tech. Sgt. Thomas Dow)
March 03, 2022

The Department of Defense revealed this week it is launching a renewed gun safety campaign as part of an effort to address suicides among the ranks.

During a Wednesday congressional hearing, Defense Suicide Prevention Office (DSPO) director Karen Orvis said her department plans to launch a messaging campaign promoting gun safety, Military Times reported.

Orvis said the campaign will focus on “the positive impact of safely storing firearms and medications.”

The new gun safety campaign as the military has seen rises in suicides in recent years. In October, the Federal News Network reported the Pentagon recorded a 15 percent increase in military suicides in 2020 compared to 2019, as 580 service members took their own lives. The publication reported that suicide had particularly affected the U.S. Army in recent years and that the branch had seen suicide cases on the rise every year for the past five years.

According to a report Thursday from the Center for American Progress, military service members and veterans alike were most likely to commit suicide using a firearm. For example, in 2019 about 69 percent of all veteran suicides involved a gun, while about 65 percent of all active-duty and National Guard suicide deaths involved a firearm, while by comparison, about 48 percent of non-military and non-veteran suicides used a firearm.

The Center for American Progress report also said, “Studies have found that the rate of suicide among soldiers who own firearms is higher than it is for those who do not own a gun at home. One of the main reasons is that firearms can easily be accessed and are considerably more lethal than other means.”

According to Federal News Network, Craig Bryan, the director of the suicide prevention program at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, said almost 70 percent of military suicides and two-thirds of all gun deaths in the United States are suicides.

“Our data tells us that suicide is often a sudden and impulsive act and that adding time and distance between an individual’s suicide risk and a lethal means can be life-saving,” Orvis told lawmakers on Wednesday.

Orvis said the DSPO’s new campaign would include education and training handouts promoting the use of safe means of firearms storage as well as information about gun lockers and locks. The campaign will also provide guides for military leaders to discuss personal firearms safety among the ranks.

Orvis told lawmakers that DSPO’s focus on gun safety will have its limitations, as military leaders do not monitor which firearms their troops privately own.

Orvis said DSPO is looking at other means of improving suicide prevention beyond just gun safety, including discussing medication abuse, which is the third most common means of suicide.