A new NRA-backed law will make it virtually impossible to get
private weapons out of the hands of some potentially suicidal
soldiers, Army officials say. The NRA says the guns aren't the
Top military officials are speaking out against a new law backed
by the National Rifle Association, which they fear will increase the
danger of suicide among US troops.
The measure prohibits commanders from being able to "collect or
record any information" about private firearms owned by US troops
living off base.
The Army's No. 2 officer, Gen. Peter Chiarelli, expressed concern
this week that this law amounts to a prohibition on commanders
engaging in vital discussions with US soldiers about weapons and
"I am not allowed to ask a soldier who lives off post whether
that soldier has a privately owned weapon," he says.
While commanders are permitted to ask troops who appear to be a
danger to themselves or others about private firearms - or to
suggest perhaps locking them temporarily in a base depot - if the
soldier denies that he or she is thinking about harming anyone, then
the commander cannot pursue the discussion further.
Nearly half of all soldiers who commit suicide use a firearm,
General Chiarelli points out. He added that "suicide in most cases
is a spontaneous event" that is often fueled by drugs and
alcohol. But "if you can separate the individual from the
weapon," he added, "you can lower the incidences of suicide."
The problem, Chiarelli said, is that "we have issues in even
being able to do that."
The NRA pushed for the law after receiving complaints from
soldiers at bases across the country, says spokesman Andrew
Arulanandam. In Fort Riley, Kan., commanders "imposed a preposterous
regulation," according to the NRA website, that required soldiers to
register firearms that they were keeping off base and authorized
commanders "to set arbitrary limits on the caliber of firearms and
ammunition their troops may privately own."
The NRA defended the measure. "The thing that doesn't make sense
to us is that when anyone exhibits high-risk tendencies, the logical
response would be to provide counseling, to address matters at hand
that are triggering these high-risk tendencies," Mr. Arulanandam
says. "That would be common sense, rather than to talk to them about
In a discussion sponsored by the Center for a New American
Security, Chairelli noted that half of all soldiers are actually
seeing a behavioral health specialist when they commit suicide.
Finding correlations and causes for suicide to lower the rate among
troops "has proven to be the most difficult [challenge] in my 40
years in the military," he added. …