The Bulletin

Of military suicides, 65 percent involved a firearm, new report shows

By: - July 24, 2019 11:42 pm

Sixty-five percent of deaths by suicide among members of the military in 2017 involved a firearm, according to a new Department of Defense report.

Drugs and alcohol, though, were the most frequently reported methods of attempted suicide.

The report might reignite discussions within the military around limiting access to firearms to reduce the suicide rate among active-duty personnel, reports Patricia Kim with

Public health researchers have pointed to restricting gun access as a means of reducing suicides. According to the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, studies show that when a particularly lethal method is less available, “suicide rates by that method decline.”

In Virginia, the most common form of fatal gun violence is suicide. In 2017, about half of the 1,157 suicides that occurred in the state involved a firearm. When it came together for a special session earlier this month, the General Assembly did not act to limit accessibility to firearms. There were nearly 129,400 active duty military personnel in Virginia as of March 31, second only to California, according to the Department of Defense. In 2017, the Republican-controlled legislature passed a bill allowing anyone with a valid military ID to carry a concealed firearm without a permit, though it was vetoed by then-Gov. Terry McAuliffe.

A study looking into suicide risk among U.S. Army soldiers, published in June in the Journal of the American Medical Association, found that “firearm accessibility was associated with a significant increase in the risk of suicide” in the psychological autopsy of 135 soldiers.

“This study suggests that identifying possible targets for intervention, such as promoting the separate storage of guns and ammunition as well as discouraging public carrying of firearms when not required for military duties, has important implications for suicide prevention,” it states.

The Department of Defense study also found that about half of those who died by suicide “did not have a documented behavioral health diagnosis.”

Active-duty military suicides in 2018 hit the highest number in at least six years, reported.

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Katie O'Connor
Katie O'Connor

Katie, a Manassas native, has covered health care, commercial real estate, law, agriculture and tourism for the Richmond Times-Dispatch, Richmond BizSense and the Northern Virginia Daily. Last year, she was named an Association of Health Care Journalists Regional Health Journalism Fellow, a program to aid journalists in making national health stories local and using data in their reporting. She is a graduate of the College of William and Mary, where she was executive editor of The Flat Hat, the college paper, and editor-in-chief of The Gallery, the college’s literary magazine.