Veterans Day is a solemn occasion for many. It’s a time when we, as a nation, honor those who wore the uniform and stood in defense of all we hold dear. It is a reminder of those who served during war and peace, that those select few swore an oath to defend the U.S. Constitution against all enemies, foreign and domestic. These are the men and women who picked up a rifle to stand between that which we treasure and those that threaten our way of life.
The holiday started as Armistice Day, marking the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month. That’s when WWI, known then as the Great War, ended. That’s the day the guns fell silent.
For those of us in the firearm industry, that’s an important reminder of the selflessness, bravery and patriotism of those Americans who have defended our nation. Generation after generation, Americans have stepped forward to answer the call to arms when America’s enemies lurked at the door. Though they number in the millions, they are the few of us that represent the best of us.
It is also why on this Veterans Day, the firearm industry reminds everyone that this is more than just a celebration of veterans and their patriotism. The parades and gatherings will fade but the veteran remains. They are sons and daughters, mothers and fathers, brothers and sisters. For some of us who were privileged to serve alongside them in the most trying circumstances, they are closer than family. We owe them the very best of who we are as neighbors, communities and a nation.
That’s why Veterans Day is a poignant reminder to all that we have a duty to our veterans. For some of those veterans, the guns never fell silent. The battlefield still echoes in their ears. The sights, sounds and smells of war linger. We owe it to one another as fellow veterans – as Americans who are indebted to those who purchased our freedoms – to honor veterans by making a “buddy check.”
The firearm industry is encouraging all veterans and those who love their veterans to make a “buddy check.” Reach out to the veterans around you and see how they’re doing. Listen. Truly listen to what they have to say, and sometimes what they don’t say. Ask questions, even if they’re uncomfortable. The Department of Veterans Affairs has the Reach Out program to get veterans connected with the necessary resources to navigate depression, grief or loss, post traumatic stress and other life challenges.
The tragic reality is that America is still losing veterans. Suicide among veterans remains unacceptably too common. That’s why NSSF partnered with the Department of Veterans Affairs and the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP) to provide firearm retailers and ranges the resources they need to help anyone to have a brave conversation. Through the firearm industry’s Project ChildSafe initiative, over 40 million free firearm safety kits have been distributed free of charge to ensure firearms are locked and inaccessible to those who shouldn’t have their hands on them.
The firearm industry isn’t the expert on suicide prevention. That’s why we’ve partnered with those experts. However, the issue of suicide – especially veteran suicide – is serious enough that each of us has a duty to the veterans in our lives to make a difference. That starts with that brave conversation. It might also mean getting veterans steered toward the resources they need to address their mental health struggles. Time and distance mean the difference. If someone is struggling with suicidal ideations and owns firearms, offering to take those guns or find other temporary offsite storage for them can literally save lives.
It doesn’t mean veterans have to give up their guns forever. The Second Amendment rights that all veterans fought to preserve can still be retained. Voluntarily seeking mental health treatment doesn’t mean these rights go away. Offering to intervene, though, can save lives.
‘You know why I’m here.’
Many of us have already done this, including me. There was a late-night phone call during the holidays from a fellow veteran that another Marine with whom we had served wasn’t answering the phone. Family was hours away. A drive through pouring rain and pounding on a door gave way to relief when that Marine finally opened it. I wrapped that Marine in my arms and said, “You know why I’m here and you know I’m not leaving.”
I asked where his guns were and gathered them up. I stayed the night and got that Marine to the medical professionals who could help him. Weeks later when he was again healthy, those guns were returned. That Marine was married to his bride just months ago.
Caylin Wojcik, a combat-wounded Marine sniper and co-founder of Modern Day Sniper, a long-range training program, shared his thoughts on the importance of the firearm industry making a difference in veterans’ lives. He explained he lost a close friend to suicide and has come close to losing others.
“I think it’s very important to talk about mental health,” Wojcik said. “I think it’s important to talk about suicide prevention programs and reduce the stigmatism that surrounds it and show people that, hey, it’s okay to talk about these things.”
Veterans fought to preserve our freedoms. Make a point this Veterans Day to honor their service by making a “buddy check”. Offer to talk over a cup of coffee. Be there. Be present. Be willing to listen and be willing to act to save lives.
We owe it to the very best of us to be there when they need it.
If you are in crisis or want to help someone in crisis, call 988, the National Suicide and Crisis Lifeline. Veterans should call 988 and press 1.
Mark Oliva is Managing Director of Public Affairs for NSSF, The Firearm Industry Trade Association. He is a retired Marine Master Gunnery Sergeant with 25 years of service, including tours in Iraq, Afghanistan, Haiti, Albania, and Zaire.
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