The Second Amendment kills more U.S. soldiers than the Taliban

From 2010 to 2012, more people in the military died from suicide than any other underlying cause. Almost half were people shooting themselves in the United States with their private weapon.

Since 2010, suicide has been the most common underlying cause of death for members of the U.S. armed forces.

Image from Medical Surveillance Monthly Report, Volume 21 No. 10 (October 2014).
Image from Medical Surveillance Monthly Report, Volume 21 No. 10 (October 2014), Page 21.

While this has been well-reported already, it hasn’t been widely shared that from 2010 to 2012 an armed service member was far more likely to die from suicide if stationed in the United States than anywhere else in the world. Unsurprisingly, almost half of all of those suicide deaths were due to privately acquired firearms.

Military Suicide Attempts Military Suicides

The Department of Defense tracks suicides by overall numbers and rate per 100,000 person years, but the Armed Services Health Surveillance Center compiled three years and looked at suicide events to compare by method* across regions.

Being in a combat zone (here defined as Iraq, Afghanistan, Kuwait, and Djibouti) is most likely so fundamentally different from being stationed in a peaceful area that decreasing the number of suicide attempts and completions has an absolute floor that no policy or materials can reduce.

A base in Germany or South Korea, though, should have similar stresses to working out of Texas or Washington State, with similar demographics among service members. Instead, a soldier, sailor, airman, or marine at home is more than twice as likely to attempt suicide (61.7 per 100,000 person-years) and more than four times as likely to die from suicide (19.2) in the U.S. than being stationed in a similar situation in Europe or Asia (29.1 attempted; 4.5 completed).

In the Armed Services Health Surveillance Center report on the period 2010-2012, it makes the difference between the two areas clear.

‘In general, U.S. military members have more limited access to firearms when serving in Europe/Asia than in other regions. Nearly all of the countries in Europe and Asia where U.S. service members are stationed have very restrictive weapons laws. … Although laws and regulations governing gun ownership vary from state to state, most citizens in the U.S. may legally own [privately owned firearms] and many service members do.’

Without going so far as to name it the cause, the report finds that the difference is the accessibility of firearms and the marked efficiency of that method compared with others.

Military Suicide Completion Rate

Drug and alcohol suicide attempts may not necessarily be intentional acts, just accidental overdoses. But even when they are, it’s very rare for them to be fatal. Hanging is in almost every instance an intentional act of self-harm, but even it might only result in death in half of all occasions or less.

Guns are made for killing people. They’re very, very good at it, and that’s why we give them to soldiers to use when facing enemy combatants. In combat zones, service members have to have them. But times and places of peace, they’re not just extraneous, they’re dangerous.

If Taliban organized for a terrorist group to creep in and assassinate a single military service member in his or her home, the response would be swift and unequivocal, and nothing would stand in our way in making sure those responsible were held accountable and that it never happened again to anyone.

In 2013, 127 U.S. service members were killed in Afghanistan. The same year, 132 killed themselves with their own firearm, not quite half at their own home. 

The United States has a strong gun lobby, and legislatures and courts that make portable human-killing machines legal and universally common. What we don’t have is a desire to do anything to change or address the firearms problem that kills hundreds of service men and women each year, as well as 20,000 of the 40,000 civilians who complete suicide each year.

So if you know someone serving in the military, and you care about their safety, the best thing you can do is hope they can get stationed somewhere that doesn’t have a Second Amendment.

They’ll be much safer that way. But then, you’d be safer there, too.

*Categories of methods of suicide attempts and suicides are defined as Drugs; Alcohol; Hanging/asphyxiation; Firearm, military issued; Firearm, not military issued; Sharp/blunt object; Other (Fire/steam; Gas, vehicle exhaust; Gas, utility [or other]; Chemicals; Drowning; Jumping from high place; Lying in front of a moving object; Crashing a motor vehicle); All other methods; and Data unavailable.

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31 thoughts on “The Second Amendment kills more U.S. soldiers than the Taliban”

  1. The data seems to indicate that more people would die of OD if they knew how to OD properly. Guns are not the issue here. Something is wrong that is making these people want to commit suicide.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. If you dig into the original reports, it seems reasonable to assume that many drug overdoses weren’t even intended to be suicide attempts.

      Non-rhetorically: What is your explanation for why service members in the U.S. would be more prone to choose methods likely to result in a completed suicide while those in Europe and Asia would choose less efficient methods?

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      1. I think Almost brings up an excellent point. There is an underlying issue for making these people want to commit suicide. Yes, they have the means to accomplish the task, but other means can be chosen.

        As to why Americans choose more lethal methods, I believe it has to be with our massive foreign involvement and the repercussions for it. While we can train people how to kill, they still live with the consequences of pulling the trigger. Figurative Ghosts of dead enemy combatants haunting them. Regret, PTSD, Atrocities they may have seen, or even have had a hand in committing. Living with those decisions can be difficult.

        I live in the Ft. Hood area of the United States and I have talked to many soldiers who struggle with the Mental scars of what they have done. Bright Young kids (16-18 yr olds) sign on to the military for a free college education, but it can come with a terrible cost.

        A cost that some have difficulty living with. So, ultimately I agree with Almost. Yes, self-inflicted Gun violence is an issue. But, firearms are only a symptom of the greater problem. The damaged psyche of young people who do not know how to cope.

        Good discussion topic.

        Liked by 2 people

      2. Mr. Lirette makes several fair points, but additional context complicates the issue. The Minnesota National Guard conducted a comprehensive review of suicides amongst its service members and uncovered something it found truly surprising: soldiers who have never deployed were MORE likely to commit suicide than those who served in Iraq and/or Afghanistan. The psychological costs of war are real and should not be underestimated or dismissed, but they do not entirely explain the rates of suicide in the military.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. I think the more interesting thing is to find out WHY service members are killing themselves. Yes, shooting yourself with a gun is quite efficient, but what brought them to that point?

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    1. What they don’t realize is that even being overseas away from family and friends is better than being stateside dealing with pedantic BS. Overseas you have a mission to complete and no one messes with you (unless they want a promotion); whereas, stateside you have literally nothing but paperwork which must be done perfectly and quickly or you face UCMJ punishment all while being micromanaged by dipshits that have nothing going for them except their meager “leadership” position, which they dangle in your face and slap you with every chance they get.

      TlDr; It’s not the job that’s causing the suicides, it’s bad leadership, micromanagement, and extreme consequences for minor mistakes (with no chance of escape) that pushes these men and women over the edge

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  3. As much as I am against guns and weapons in general, if I wanted to kill myself because I was at such an emotional low point in my life as to become suicidal: it doesnt take multiple studies to know I would want the most effective and hopefully painless way of ending my existence.

    Sure we can look at hard data and see why having access to guns increases likelihood of suicide, but it sickens me that no real or critical thought has been given to why someone would (stationed at home) get to such a low point that they want to end it- especially why more so in the US vs outside?

    While the Second Amendment and easier access to guns is only amplifying a much more serious problem here, this article is trying to blame it completely on guns while even stating that suicide attempts are more likely in general… So what the hell is going on here???

    I think you should be ashamed of writing such a false-targeted article that is really ignoring a deeper problem: why the suicidal tendencies have gotten so baf? Oh, because: guns. Disgusting.

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    1. Have suicidal tendencies gotten bad? I honestly don’t know. Figuring out what the benchmark would be to compare the U.S. military to some other U.S. population is almost impossible: do you correct for age, ethnicity, and gender? How do you factor in the obviously mentally ill, criminally violent, alcoholics, and drug abusers who get screened out before being allowed to join? Comparing it to another military population would bring up its own set of problems.

      The best group for the sake of comparison I can think of is service members in the U.S. vs non-combat zones outside the U.S. That’s what this looks at.

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      1. Look into Dr. Thomas Joiner’s work on suicidal ideation and distortions of thought in military suicide, or “Living and Surviving in Harm’s Way: A Psychological Treatment Handbook for Pre- and Post-Deployment of Military Personnel”, which outlines the allostatic load these men face returning home after deployment. Coming back is often more stressful for them than their actual deployment, as our government does little to take care of their own upon their return. Guns are not the issue at all. These are men who have served in a “hyper-masculine” environment refuse to seek treatment as a result of the stigma of “weakness” associated with mental illness. Their depression or mental illness perpetuates these angry traits of aggressiveness and apathy. Firearms are an easy means to an end for these men, but are not the “cause” of suicide. As a survivor of suicide, using these tragic deaths of these troubled men to fit your political agenda without addressing the actual issue (the preventable death of innocent men) is disgusting and offensive.

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      2. I actually couldn’t find any evidence that being in the military made someone more likely to commit suicide. I don’t doubt that there are specific stresses and traumas those who’ve experienced combat and such will have to face.

        But a clear minority of those dead ever experienced combat, and depending on the year you’re looking at, only about half were deployed at all.

        So the ‘why’ really isn’t very important to this subject, and my narrow comparison. If the ‘how’ were restricted to hanging, drugs, and blunt/sharp objects, then many more people would be alive to have a treatable ‘why’. But a given number of suicide attempts with a personal firearm will equal the number of deaths as twice as many hanging attempts.

        I’ll try to find a copy of the work you referenced, but there’s a very specific remedy to decreasing the number of suicides in the United States.

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    2. This is sick. This is using a serious issue this country has as a stepping stone to further a political agenda. A perfectly healthy person put into an extreme situation can develop disorders that they may not have otherwise. That being said, this article is an example of a piss-poor job of taking care of our veterans.These people sacrifice health, well being, and possibly their life. For whatever reason they join, right or wrong, they make that choice, and the people who send them just don’t give a shit…

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  4. There is a tremendous stigma against mental health in the military and THAT is the reason for suicides. We pay these guys pennies to live on a base in the middle of nowhere and expect them to stay happy? We cut their budgets and close their base hospitals and wonder why things are the way they are. The guys over in Europe have plenty to do and plenty of reasons to be happy while the ones in Mid-Western America work overtime while surrounded by corn fields and alcohol.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Perhaps this is also very indicative of the lack of mental health care provided to soldiers. They clearly have PTSD and it is not adequately addressed. War is ugly for anyone, I can’t even imagine. If they were in battle of any kind, even the thought of it, left mental images and things that we should never have to handle mentally. I blame the government for sending into this situation and then not taking care of them when their service is no longer needed.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. The 2A has nothing to do with it- the desire to die does. Suicide occurs regardless of the means. Removing guns would not mean less people would commit suicide. That is a logical fallacy.

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  7. I’ve family that has served. They have been to Iraq and Afghanistan. Stressful in more ways than I could ever imagine, but not necessarily something everyone in the services has experienced.

    Basic training takes these men and women away from their families, friends, and plunges them into a fast-paced and highly physical environment. They are told what to do, where to go, etc, etc. They can’t see their loved ones for weeks at a time, and treasure each and every note from home and minute on the phone. And that is if they have a support system in place. People to write them, to wait by the phone on a Sunday afternoon just to tell them that they love them and miss them.

    Now consider those who don’t have that, or that their girlfriend decided that she could no longer wait for him. If they feel abandoned and neglected in such a trying time, it’s no wonder they don’t consider other options…

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  8. Should we take all Combat Veterans shoe laces as well? Your thought process on this is flawed. The real question is what is Veterans Affairs doing for treatment of PTSD for those who are coming back for deployment?

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  9. Absolutely absurd, the idea that suicide should factor into any gun statistics is asinine. You miss the point completely. Depression is a completely different scope than gun control.
    Rule#1 when deployed, your weapon never leaves you. It is never more than an arms reach away from you (chaplains exempted.) With that being said, how many people have committed suicide, via gun, while deployed? If you ask me, everybody should have a weapon on them at all times. Seems to work over there.

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  10. This is of course a tragedy, but lets remain at tad analytical about this. Between active duty army, reserves, and the national guard, there are about a million troops. This of course I zcludes navy and air force, but it makes the math easier. Adjusting for the average age of soldiers as a 26 year old male with demographics rougly equal to the us population, the suicide rate is only marginally higher than one would expect. The disparity between soldiers at home and abroad is very simple, when your comrades are depending on you, you do your job. Its the mental exhale back home where all the stress hits you at once and you have nothing to focus it on except memories, some traumatic.

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  11. I did some research on the number of suicides during the Viet Nam war era and the numbers were very similar. This seems to be a consequence of the horrors of war.

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  12. What a worthless article. Should be ban knives too? How about we address the reason WHY these people kill themselves and not push an idiotic and illogical agenda.

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    1. It’s tough to chop carrots with a gun. They have only one real utility, and that’s for shooting people and animals.

      If more people tried to kill themselves with knives, that would be a good thing, though. Only two percent of events end in a fatality.

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  13. Thanks for the effort. What pro-gun people fail to realise is not so much that there are risks involved in life in America as well as anywhere else (I’ve put that a little clumsily, but essentially shit happens all over the world) but that the risks are INCREASED thanks to the guns that are more populous in America than people. In my little effort here – https://hampshirehog.wordpress.com/2015/01/26/gun-control-works-and-heres-the-evidence/ , it can be seen that the place that has the high number of homicides, America, is also the place that has the high number of guns. Someone genuinely said to me yesterday on Twitter – “Ah, but America’s homicide rate is lower than that of Stalinist Russia”. So what? America want’s to be the best in the world, right?

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  14. It’s disheartening that you’re more concerned with the guns than the fact that our soldiers are suicidal. “If more people tried to kill themselves with knives, that would be a good thing.” Seriously? Even if guns were specifically made as a tool for suicide I wouldn’t say such a cold thing. As far as other methods go, they’re often unsuccessful due to the fact that they weren’t intended to be so. OD is commonly just a cry for help. You also seem to imply that a suicidal soldier can’t get access to a gun while deployed in a country witwithout a “second amendment.” Yeah….I am pretty sure they have access.
    If soldiers plus suicidal ideations plus guns plus being stateside equals death, let’s take the suicidal ideations out of the equation first. I’m pretty sure no one would ever proudly campaign to make sure our soldiers only attempt suicide by less lethal methods any more than they would campaign to make sure our soldiers never return stateside.

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    1. 1. I understand that is sounds cold, but people in general are suicidal, and soldiers don’t seem to be exceptional in that regard.

      2. It may sound cold, but I meant it literally. We can’t control people’s brain chemistry, but we can affect how easy it is to fatally self-harm. If there were a suicide button installed in every home that instantly disintegrated you, more people would kill themselves. In that reality, a good first step would be removing that button from people’s homes. Someone can be just as suicidal overdosing as jumping off a building, but regret can only save you from one once you’ve started.

      3. Members of the armed forces have access to firearms, but personal use is the big difference. Having a gun when one is home, drunk, and alone is different from using one in an official capacity. In combat, weapons need to be nearby, but as the example of European and Asian military installations show, not having a firearm on hand in your weakest moment does make a difference.

      The problem doesn’t seem to be the military, the people in it, or mental health treatment for them. The problem is what all of us have access to in our weakest moment.

      I went into more detail in my follow-up post, if that interests you:
      https://adavidjohnson.wordpress.com/2015/01/30/guns-dont-kill-people-and-backhoes-dont-dig-holes-in-the-ground/

      Like

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