Some of the questions a veteran is asked when they seek treatment for PTSD or other combat related injuries such as Traumatic Brain Injury, “Do you currently own any weapons? Where are these weapons kept? And do you have regular access to these weapons?” PTSD in itself does not cause a veteran to “snap” and go on a killing spree, but having easy access to weapons is a contributing factors in the highest suicide rates among returning veterans we’ve seen in years. Given a veterans training, exposure to violence and easy access to guns, the question of controlling their access has been debated for years.
What many people don’t know, is that if a veteran is found to be mentally incompetent the VA can place them on the National Instant Criminal Background Check System, essentially prohibiting the veteran from ever owning a firearm, legally. Mental competency is based on whether there is a Fiduciary appointed, a person who is responsible for their finances. Once labeled by the VA their second amendment rights are stripped from them, the same as a criminal serving a prison term. This is current law, and some Republicans are trying to change this law based a knee-jerk reaction to stricter controls proposed by Democrats.
Politics aside, and let’s be clear that the Democrats did not start the legislation that began stricter gun control laws, Republicans are responsible for that after the attempted assassination of President Reagan. The most influential laws governing control of firearms came from the Brady Act, within a Republican administration. So let’s leave politics out of it shall we? The real concern is veterans with mental health issues feeling stigmatized by laws aimed directly at them, which may ultimately keep many from seeking treatment. The military community is full of citizens who believe in their constitutional right to bear arms. The argument being, “We fought for this country with honor and now our basic rights are being infringed.”-is often heard from veteran organizations opposed to stricter laws aimed at veterans.
So is it fact or stereotypes shaping our understanding of veterans? Stereotypes from news, film and television shows that paint anyone suffering with PTSD or TBI as being a grenade waiting for someone to pull the pin, are a contributing factor. But the facts simply don’t support this. The existence of violent crimes within military communities is prevalent enough for some military based communities to consider special “Veterans’ Courts”. These courts are specialized judicial entities sympathetic to the needs of military veterans, who often don’t commit crimes until after tours of combat leave them with untreated PTSD. PTSD can cause what some psychologist refer to as the “pancake” effect. Veterans with untreated PTSD often self-medicate with alcohol or drugs, which leads to problems that cause them to lose their job, intimate relationships, homes, and sense of purpose. Having lived in an atmosphere where violence often solved the problems at hand, violence becomes the norm. Domestic violence is the most prevalent, followed by child abuse, violent altercations such as bar fights, DUI’s often involving manslaughter charges and other drug related crimes are typical for those suffering from untreated PTSD. A combat veteran is more likely to kill themselves than a classroom full of children. So we have to ask the question, are stricter gun laws specific to military veterans going to prevent this violence? Or are we simply keeping those who need the most help away by threatening to take away the one thing that gives them security?
I recently had a conversation with a veteran suffering from PTSD concerning his access to weapons. “Give me three good reasons why you need your guns.”
His argument is typical of the conversations I’ve had with many of my combat veteran friends seeking treatment for PTSD. Guns offer him a sense of security, having guns reminds him that he’s still a law abiding American with constitutional rights, and the core of the issue seems to be the fear that a mental illness would take away his capacity to be responsible to himself or others. My answer to him was simple. Give your guns to someone you trust until you feel your therapy has been effective. You’ll still be secure, you’re a combat trained veteran- with or without a gun the bad guys don’t stand a chance. It’s a temporary condition with a temporary solution, having a gun makes it possible to apply a permanent solution to a temporary problem. Not having a gun doesn’t mean you’re crazy, it means you’re smart enough and responsible enough to realize that you need help. Seeking help is the most responsible thing you can do for yourself and those who love you.
Better mental health services or stricter control of guns? The debate rages on.