Barbie Rohde runs the most active chapter of a nonprofit called Mission 22, aimed at ending the scourge of military and veteran suicide, which kills thousands every year, at a rate far higher than the general population, according to the Associated Press. Three-quarters of those who take their own lives use guns. One of them was her son, Army Sgt. Cody Bowman, 25. For decades, discussions of suicide prevention skirted fraught questions about firearms. “It’s a big change for us to be talking so directly about firearms,” said Matt Miller, who runs the Veterans Administration’s suicide prevention efforts. The vast majority of people who attempt suicide do not die. A tiny fraction, only about 5% of people attempting suicide, use a gun. Guns are deadly almost every time, and so account for over half of suicide deaths. For veterans, that jumps to 75%. Experts say that traumatic experiences at war play a role in veterans having a suicide rate 1.5 times higher than others. Yet even those with no combat history die by suicide at a much higher rate.
What they have in common, researchers say, is demographics especially vulnerable to suicide: predominately white men with access to and familiarity with firearms. The military tasked a panel of researchers with recommending solutions. In February, that committee issued a 115-page report, including gun safety measures like waiting periods on military property and raising the minimum age for servicemembers to buy guns to 25. “We’re not trying to take people’s guns, we’re trying to prevent people from killing themselves,” said Dr. Craig Bryan, a veteran and Ohio State University psychologist on the panel. “I say it’s possible to value Second Amendment rights and also be willing to prevent suicide. Those two things can coexist.” U.S. gun suicides reached an all-time high last year, Johns Hopkins University found. The debate about guns usually centers on homicides and mass shootings, but suicides account for more than half of U.S. gun deaths. Policies like requiring permits, waiting periods, and red flag laws, actually do more to prevent suicide than homicides, researchers say.