Letter to the Editor

We can't ignore reality of veterans' suicide

Tuesday, February 26, 2019

In late January, the Trump Administration’s Department of Veterans Affairs announced an historic collaboration that could help curb the epidemic of veterans’ suicide. By partnering with the National Shooting Sports Foundation and the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, the Administration is taking important steps to promote responsible gun ownership best practices and safe firearm storage.

That's huge. The moments between deciding to commit suicide and the time it takes to retrieve a firearm can be the difference between life and death. It’s unfortunate that members of our state legislature, including Rep. John Wills, a veteran himself, and Sen. Zach Whiting have not taken this into account while advocating for radical changes to our state's responsible firearm purchase policies. These changes would remove the absolute lowest bar for purchasing a firearm — obtaining a permit. Lawmakers repeated outdated statistics and missed the larger tragedy during a legislative forum at the Pearson Lakes Art Center on Feb. 16. Here’s the most recent information:

Around 20 veterans succumb to suicide daily — a statistic that includes not just veterans, but guardsmen, reservists and active-duty service members. Data reveals that 7 in 10 veterans who commit suicide use a firearm. You can save a drowning man or pump an overdose victims' stomach, but once the trigger is pulled there is not much opportunity to save a veteran's life.

Additionally, lawmakers seem to have forgotten that the suicide rate in Iowa is already higher than the national average and trending upward. Our legislators insist they've done a lot to mend our state’s mental health crisis but we have yet to see the fruits of that labor.

The short amount of time it takes to get a permit is reasonable. It's enough time for someone to notice a veteran in crisis. It's enough time for that veteran to seek help on their own or to reconsider what would otherwise have been a hair-trigger decision. One study plainly states that "delaying access to a gun is critical; it allows time for the suicidal impulse to pass without being realized."

It is irresponsible for lawmakers, and freshman State Sen. Whiting in particular, to push forward this constitutional amendment when it's obvious they haven't done their homework on veterans' suicide.

About one quarter of all veterans choose to live in rural areas like ours because it's the epitome of what they fought to defend — amber waves in fields of opportunity. They deserve the right to own firearms as they see fit and many, in fact, do not feel safe without a firearm. The permitting process currently in place is critical to ensuring their rights and lives are protected.

If you are a veteran or know a veteran who is struggling with PTSD or thoughts of suicide, please contact the Veterans Crisis Line at 1-800-273-8255 and press 1 or text 838255.

Brett W. Copeland

Milford