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US works to reduce military suicides

NEW YORK ­— With nearly half of all suicides in the military having been committed with privately owned firearms, the Pentagon and Congress are moving to establish policies intended to separate at-risk service members from their personal weapons.

The issue is a thorny one for the Pentagon, with gun-rights advocates and many service members fiercely opposing any policies that could be construed as limiting the private ownership of firearms.

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But with suicides rising, senior Defense Department officials are developing a suicide prevention campaign that will encourage friends and families of potentially suicidal service members to safely store or voluntarily remove personal firearms from their homes.

In another step considered significant by suicide-prevention advocates, Congress appears poised to enact legislation that would allow military mental health counselors and commanders to talk to troops about their private firearms.

The measure, which is promoted by the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, would amend a law enacted in 2011 that prohibited the Defense Department from collecting information from service members about lawfully owned firearms kept at home.

The 2011 measure, part of the Defense Authorization Act and passed at the urging of the National Rifle Association, was viewed by many military officials as preventing commanders and counselors from discussing gun safety with potentially suicidal troops.

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