‘Red Flag’ for Veteran Health?

Stars and Stripes is reporting on the efforts of the well informed, compassionate, and totally unbiased Bloomberg minions at Everytown for Gun Safety. This group, leading its menagerie of well meaning yet ignorant folk, are trying to use the epidemic of veteran suicide to pass Extreme Risk Protection Order and other ‘Red Flag’ legislation across all 50 states.

The piece opens with an dark soul wrenching statement. If retired Marine Corps Master Sgt. Mike Washington had access to a firearm on some of his darkest days, he would’ve used it on himself.

We are immediately beset by emotion, encouraged to place our logic aside as we manifest sympathy. We feel for MSgt Washington. A Gulf War Veteran of both campaigns and he lost his son to the latter war, Afghanistan in 2008. Losing his son devastated him and pushed him into suicidal ideation. He got help.

“If I had a weapon handy at that time, I certainly would’ve used it,” Washington said.

He didn’t have a weapon. He is not a red flag success story.

But there is where Everytown grabbed their chance, and brought the retired MSgt onto an advisory council. They have taken the veteran suicide rate, a rate that is far higher than combat deaths and has been for awhile, and used it to recommend states add Red Flag and ERPO orders into their legal codes.

The Department of Veterans Affairs reported that firearms were used in 69% of all veteran suicides in 2017, the latest year data is available. That’s a nearly 33% increase from 2005. I am unsure if that was 33% overall suicides or by firearm specifically, firearm is implied.

The factors glossed over or omitted, it seems, are what the national suicide rates were and the trend of veteran suicides as a whole as the wars grew longer and all the services struggled with a myriad of internal problems that fueled service member stress and depression rates. The DoD is struggling colossally against toxic internal problems that undoubtedly kill its people.

NIMH chart of national suicide rates.

Let’s take a hard look at that chart now that Everytown has claimed the 33% increase in ‘Veteran Firearm Suicide’ from 2005 to 2017. Suicide is sadly up across the whole population. Up 31% from 2001. Female suicide is up nearly 49% while males are up 23%.

Suicide has increased as a national concern, not just suicide by firearm. This context throws a 33% increase in Veteran suicide by firearm as falling inline with the troubling national trend, not an outlier and not directly firearm related. Firearms are the chosen method 50.5% of the time with a heavy bias towards male use. Given Veterans higher propensity to be firearm owners and also male, a higher use of firearms by veterans logically follows.

In Indiana, which enacted a red flag law in 2005, suicides by firearm have decreased by 7.5%, according to a study published last year in the journal Psychiatric Services. The same study found a 13.7% decline in gun suicides in Connecticut, which was the first state to pass a red flag law in 1999.Stripes.com Article

Yet Indiana’s overall suicide rate is well above the national average and climbing. So why are we celebrating the Red Flag law when more people took their lives? Just because proportionally less did so with a gun? More people are dead but a lesser percentage chose a gun to do it. More people shot themselves but it was a lower ratio, that is their ‘Red Flag’ “win”.

2012 through 2018 shown. Indiana are the boxes, the national rate are the circles.

Suicides. Are. Up.

It’s highly inappropriate to claim a decrease, I feel, if we just dropped one method for another. If that 7.5% firearm method decrease had accompanied an overall decrease in suicide there might be a leg to stand on. But it doesn’t, suicides aren’t down. More people took their lives, not less.

Is this really the data you want to stand on, Everytown?

Washington, who said he was “very fortunate” to not have a gun in his house when he was suicidal, ran the suggestion for red flag laws past a group of Marine Corps veterans. They immediately bristled.

No shit? A group that knows full well what a clusterfuck the government apparatus can be like doesn’t want that same apparatus to be able to take their personal weapons on the whim of someone who ‘thinks’ they are having a problem, who would have seen that one coming.

Especially when all the methods in the world exist to do this, relinquish your firearms, on a voluntary basis. I’ve held guns for friends going through a rough spot. I gave them back when they were feeling themselves again. I have friends I wish would’ve reached out too. I have no faith that ‘Red Flagging’ would’ve helped any of them.

Getting ‘Red Flagged’ is a conviction without a day in court. It will be seen that way. It will always feel that way.

“There’s a lot of pushback,” Washington said. “There’s this fear that the cops are going to be the ones to do this. That fear of infringement on the Second Amendment, it’s a big fear. That’s huge.”

Yeah, who else is going to take weapons by force? The court isn’t going to empower your relatives to break, enter, and take.

Retired Army Capt. Chris Marvin, a founding member of the Everytown Veterans Advisory Council, thinks the idea could be sold to veterans if they know it’s a temporary measure – and if family members are the ones securing the firearms.

“Approaching them by saying, ‘You will get your guns back,’ when it’s coming from people close to them who love them – that comes with a measure of trust,” Marvin said. “I think from a policy standpoint, red flag laws are the most immediate and effective that we could put in place.”

Making your family the method of forcible government intervention is a real way to build trust.

I’m not saying asking and encouraging someone going through crisis, or that you suspect is going through crisis, to put their guns up is a bad idea. It isn’t, it’s absolutely a behavior to be encouraged. I’m saying that government is the worst engine for it. Mandating it turns this into a pseudo criminal conviction and not a positive health choice.

Everytown,

Nobody believes the organization actively looking to ban firearms wants to enable any method to give your firearms back to you, even when you’re “better”. Members of Gun Control organizations have openly stated they believe firearm ownership itself is a mental disorder.

No thanks, we see what you’re doing there. Try again. And stop using Veteran dead as your emotional lever. You can fuck right off with that shit.

Keith Finch
Keith is the Editor-in-Chief of GAT Marketing Agency, Inc. editor@gatdaily.com A USMC Infantry Veteran and Small Arms and Artillery Technician, Keith covers the evolving training and technology from across the shooting industry. A Certified Instructor since 2009, he has taught concealed weapons courses in the West Michigan area in the years since and continues to pursue training and teaching opportunities as they arise.