Army suicides and gun policy

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A very significant U. S. Army study on suicides in the ranks [see note 1] came and went past most public notice in 2013. On some military bases, “successful” suicides are nearly zero. Suicides on U.S. bases in South Korea have been very rare. But the rates are disturbingly high at Fort Campbell, Kentucky, and Fort Hood, Texas, for example.

The one primary difference factor found in this study is access to firearms while off duty. In Korea, this access is restricted. In Texas it is not. It fits, as I have contended in an earlier post, a “probability function” more like a “lottery” than a “cause.”

With suicide discussion there tends to be the false logic of, “You must be mentally ill to commit suicide, therefore all suicidal people are mentally ill,” a fallacy that I explored in another recent post. There is mental illness. Some mentally ill people commit suicide. Often, people with no outward indicators of suicidal thoughts commit suicide, confounding their families for life. But the common factor in “suicide by gun” is the easy availability of the gun, and not the presence of mental illness.

There are suicidal people the world over, and perhaps even in your household. It is a serious problem. Effective intervention is possible and necessary. But as the U. S. Army and other countries have proven, the “success” rate can be reduced to as much as one-tenth of current levels by restricting access to guns.

Think about that. Up to nine out of ten soldiers at Fort Hood who died by their own hand annually did not have to die, even though they were suicidal. But the Army won’t change its policy, and apparently neither will we.

The Second Amendment was historically more about guaranteeing the rights of Southern plantation owners to hunt down escaped slaves and to prevent slave insurrection through “well-regulated militias” than it was about protecting against British invaders. [2] And it certainly had nothing to do with giving kids access to military-grade weapons to do harm to themselves (most likely [3]) or others. The time has come…


  1. “South Korea Mostly Suicide-Free for U.S. Troops”, Military Suicide Research Consortium, 18 Feb. 2013.
  2. One of the earliest documented uses of this famous phrase in the Americas came from the Caribbean “sugar islands” from which many southern colonial plantations had their genesis:

    “Violence was commonplace in Nevis, as in all of the slave-ridden sugar islands. The eight thousand captive blacks easily dwarfed in number the one thousand whites, “a disproportion,” remarked one visitor, “which necessarily converts all such white men as are not exempted by age and decrepitude into a well-regulated militia.” (Ron Chernow, Alexander Hamilton, p. 19)

  3. Suicide remains, by far, the largest category of firearm death.

8 thoughts on “Army suicides and gun policy

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  2. Bruce Lindgren

    This post is particularly important because suicides by firearm account for the
    largest percentage of gun deaths each year in the United States—by far. They run in excess of 20,000, roughly twice the number of gun-related homocides. There is generally no reason to purchase a gun illegally to commit suicide, and most guns used to commit suicide were typically bought for some other purpose. The numbers are disturbing. If you buy a gun, and if that gun is used to kill someone, the most likely outcome is that someone will use it to commit suicide. The odds are also quite high that the death will be a homocide. It might be an accident, but the odds are much smaller. The chance that your gun will be used to commit a justifiable homocide are tiny compared to all other gun deaths. If you think you are buying a gun for “protection,” think again. The odds are great that you will be horribly disappointed.

  3. RKL Post author

    Yes, I think this Army data clearly shows that gun-based suicide is as much, and likely more, a function of circumstance (i.e., gun availability) than “mental illness.” I find that to be incredibly sad.

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