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Is this new program gun control for US troops?

A handgun in a fanny pack. (Gus Chan / The Plain Dealer/TNS)
December 12, 2022

Tucked away in the military’s must-pass annual budget bill is a “pilot program” for U.S. troops to lock away their personal firearms on military installations – a move that could be seen as gun control for U.S. troops. The program involves a “safe storage” practice that President Joe Biden previously said should be legally required of every American in his broader push for gun control.

The program calls for safes and gun-locking devices to be provided to at least five installations “on a voluntary basis.” Service members participating in the program are to stow their personally-owned firearms away “when not in use.”

After six years, the Defense Secretary is required to report back to Congress on the program’s effect on suicide prevention, as well as the costs of carrying it out.

Details of the program are included on page 517 of the National Defense Authorization Act for 2023. The House of Representatives approved the bill last week with the help of 176 Republicans, and the Senate is expected to vote on it this week, sending it to Biden’s desk.

Many military installations bar troops from keeping personal guns or storing them on-site, but the rules can vary, according to Some that allow personal guns require them to be registered, and some require them to be locked away.

Biden, amid a broader push for gun control, previously said Americans should be bound by “safe storage laws requiring personal liability for not locking up your gun.” The idea is that could prevent would-be mass shooters easily grabbing guns from around the home.

“If you own a weapon you have the responsibility to secure it and keep it under lock and key,” Biden said. “Responsible gun owners agree: No one else should have access to it, so lock it up.”

Storing guns in safes or with locking devices is described as a necessary element of gun safety by the National Shooting Sports Foundation and National Rifle Association. Some states make this a legal requirement, usually to prevent children from playing with guns.

Biden has also pledged to address suicide among military members and veterans, partly through encouraging safer storage practices.

The military’s data indicates a steady rise in suicides across all branches of the military since at least 2011. Seventy percent of military suicides occur by firearm, according to the Defense Department’s 2021 report on suicides. 

Last year there were 1.4 active-duty suicides a day – a slight reversal in the trend, but the Defense Department is still hiring thousands of suicide prevention workers and setting up a committee to improve installations’ prevention efforts.