Service members are now allowed to ship empty gun safes to their next duty station without it counting against household goods weight allowances. The new Pentagon rule this week is aimed at reducing suicides, domestic violence and child deaths.
Starting this permanent change of station (PCS), or moving season, troops will be able to ship gun safes up to 500 pounds, as long as the total shipment does not exceed 18,000 pounds. Typical entry-level gun safes weigh between 200 and 600 pounds and can store up to two dozen weapons.
Defense Department officials said Wednesday the new benefit is part of an overall effort to encourage safe weapons storage to protect children from accidental deaths and prevent suicides or tragic outcomes from domestic violence.
The change was requested by the undersecretary of the Air Force in April to support the Month of the Military Child "with a focus on how important gun safes are for overall gun safety and child safety."
But the announcement also supports a new effort within the DoD and the Department of Veterans Affairs to encourage firearm safety to reduce military and veteran suicides.
Last November, the White House called for the departments to "create a plan for addressing lethal means safety awareness, education, training and program evaluation," to include safe storage of weapons and medications that could be used in a suicide.
The DoD's Annual Suicide Report for 2020 found that 70% of the 384 active-duty suicides that year, and more than half among military family members in 2019, involved a gun.
In 2020, in addition to the 384 active-duty troops, 77 reservists and 119 members of the National Guard died by suicide. Preliminary data from 2021 indicate that 328 active-duty personnel took their own lives last year, while 74 reserve members and 116 Guard members died by suicide.
The change to the travel regulations may encourage service members to purchase gun safes, given that it removes any concern about the impact a heavy safe would have on their household goods weight allowances, which are determined by rank and family status.
Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said Wednesday that the change is "welcome, it's prudent, it's the right thing to do."
"We very much welcome any move by the services with respect to improving firearm safety in the home, to include travel between stations," Kirby said.
The DoD established an Independent Review Committee on Suicide Prevention and Response in March to address increases in military suicides, which rose from 20.3 per 100,000 active-duty service members in 2015 to 23.7 per 100,000 in 2020.
Kirby said the new gun safe benefit is not directly tied to the committee's work, but weapons safety is one issue that committee members will examine.
"One of the things that we want to look at is weapon safety, particularly making sure that the men and women of the force know their options of what's available to them in terms of keeping firearms safe in the home," he said.
In March, Karin Orvis, director of the Defense Suicide Prevention Office, said that, while owning a firearm "does not cause someone to be suicidal," storing a loaded firearm at home does increase suicide risk in a household.
Safe storage, she said, not only decreases risk but also protects against accidents.
"Practice safe storage so others cannot readily access your firearm without your knowledge," Orvis wrote in a media release. "Unload it, lock it, and/or store it away. Bottom line: Stop, lock and live."
If you or someone you know is experiencing thoughts of suicide, the Veterans/Military Crisis Line is available 24/7, 365 days a year. Call 1-800-273-8255, and press 1; text to 838255; or chat online at VeteransCrisisLine.net/Chat.
-- Deputy Editor Travis Tritten contributed to this report. He can be reached at Travis.Tritten@Military.com.
-- Patricia Kime can be reached at Patricia.Kime@Military.com. Follow her on Twitter @patriciakime.