We Must Address Veteran Suicide. ERPOs Can Help Us Do That.
Yesterday I testified in front of a Senate Judiciary Subcommittee and made this case.
As a combat veteran who served in the United States Navy for 21 years, I know what it means to be a patriot.
I have seen the carnage of war and personally know the emotional and physical scars that it leaves with our veterans.
In Iraq, we understood that serving our country came with an inherent risk. We put our lives on the line knowing that we may never come home. But when our veterans do come home, our nation is failing to protect them.
More than once, my phone rang and on the other end was a veteran asking for help. I have personally taken their firearms when no one else would. I’ve answered calls in the middle of the night, driven to their houses, convinced them to seek help. I’ve taken them to the hospital, taken possession of their firearms, and agreed to take custody of them after they were released from the hospital.
When our veterans do come home, our nation is failing to protect them.
The veteran community will always be there for our fellow comrades. However, it is time that America takes action. It is time for America to take care of the patriots who so bravely fought for her freedom. We need to stop asking those who have already suffered the trauma of war to be solely responsible for stopping their friends from taking their lives.
Yesterday, I testified in the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution’s hearing and I made the case for extreme risk protection orders, which temporarily remove firearm access from those who pose a demonstrated risk to themselves or others.
As the president of the Colorado chapter of Giffords Gun Owners for Safety, a group of thousands of hunters, sport shooters, and collectors who support responsible gun ownership, I believe that the Second Amendment and common sense gun laws go hand-in-hand. And I also believe that for far too long, politicians have failed to grasp the scale of the gun violence crisis or how solutions like extreme risk protection orders could help.
In 2019, I testified in front of the Colorado legislature in support of a state extreme risk law that was later enacted. Our extreme risk law has been used to disarm a 47-year-old veteran who threatened to shoot himself and police officers, a 20-year-old man who posted online that he wanted to buy an AR-15 and kill women at a sorority house, a 37-year-old man who expressed suicidal intent, and dozens of others at risk of harming themselves or others.
It’s clear that this law, currently enacted in 19 states and the District of Columbia, has already prevented tragedies and saved lives. That’s why my testimony yesterday called for Congress to help states to pass their own version of an extreme risk law and provide grants to effectively implement the laws. This would go a long way towards addressing veteran suicide.
1 in 5 gun suicide victims are veterans
Suicide disproportionately affects American veterans, who account for one in five adult firearm suicides.
“2019 National Veteran Suicide Prevention Annual Report,” US Department of Veterans Affairs, Office of Mental Health and Suicide Prevention, September 2019, https://www.mentalhealth. va.gov/docs/data-sheets/2019/2019_National_Veteran_Suicide_Prevention_Annual_ Report_508.pdf. See also, “National Suicide Data Report Appendix,” US Department of Veterans Affairs, Office of Mental Health and Suicide Prevention, https://www.mentalhealth.va.gov/ suicide_prevention/data.asp.
Suicide, which is responsible for nearly two-thirds of gun deaths nationwide, disproportionately impacts our veteran community. More than 17 veterans die by suicide daily nationwide. That translates to over 6,400 veteran suicides a year, 70% of which involve firearms. That’s more than all the service members killed in action in the last 18 years of Operation Iraqi Freedom.
People are more likely to die by suicide if they have easy access to firearms, and far less likely to die by suicide if they do not. For many individuals, this may mean the difference between life and death: nine out of 10 people who survive a suicide attempt do not die by suicide at a later date.
In the last two Congresses, there has been bipartisan support for legislation that would give grants to states that have enacted an extreme risk law. Saving the lives of veterans and others at risk of suicide shouldn’t be a partisan issue. As a gun owner, veteran, and father, I had one message for the Senate: please do everything in your power to save lives from gun violence and save veterans from suicide, including supporting states in their efforts to pass and implement extreme risk laws.
Our veterans answered the call, served their country, and have lost so much on the battlefields already. It’s unacceptable to let them lose their lives at home.
STAND UP FOR SAFETY
Americans are not as divided as it may seem. Join Giffords Gun Owners for Safety to stand in support of responsible gun ownership. We’ll share ways to connect with fellow gun owners and support our fight for a safer America.