Fort McCoy News Nov. 11, 2016

Safety challenge grows with record gun purchases

BY ART POWELL
U.S. Army Combat Readiness Center

If the number of Federal Bureau of Investigation background checks is any indication, Americans are buying personal weapons at a record clip. During 2015, background checks exceeded 23.1 million, the most since recordkeeping began in 1998.

"The volume of applications being processed in the National Instant Criminal Background Check System tells us there may be an increase in the number of privately owned firearms in the hands of our fellow citizens, some of whom are also Soldiers," said Lt. Col. Phillip G. Jenison, Ground Directorate, U.S. Army Combat Readiness Center (USACRC).

Safety graphic

"That means there could be Soldiers who are first-time gun owners, and they must be aware of the dangers involved and exercise caution and common sense when handling them."

Even though Soldiers qualify with weapons as of part of their military training, that occurs on duty in a controlled environment. In an off-duty setting, things are different — more casual and less focused. Decreased vigilance could lead to unsafe activities with tragic consequences. While the number of Soldiers with privately owned weapons might be increasing, off-duty firearms fatalities have dropped each year since 2012. The Army lost five Soldiers each in 2013 and 2014, and the total dropped to three in fiscal year 2015, according to data available from the USACRC.

"The downward trend is good, but we must remain focused on safety, and it doesn't matter if a Soldier is a first-time gun owner or has been shooting for years," said Tracey Russell, Ground Directorate, USACRC.

"The basics for safe weapons handling never change. Soldiers should apply the same procedures they learned in basic training to their privately owned weapons as well."

The details surrounding a recent Soldier death from an unintentional discharge paint a picture of the circumstances that can contribute to such a tragedy. A 38-year-old sergeant first class was killed by the discharge of a handgun he was handling while under the influence of alcohol. He shot himself in the leg, severing the femoral artery.

"Sadly, many of our personal firearms accidents involve alcohol, and the bottom line is weapons and alcohol should never be used together," Russell said. "We have a page on our USACRC website dedicated to privately owned weapons that's loaded with information on safe handling. I urge Soldiers and leaders to use it."

For more information about safety at Fort McCoy, call 608-388-3403.