ANALYSIS – Every now and then you see a story that just hits home, and you know you need to write about it and spread the word. This one, reported by CBS News, is absolutely one of them.
Caleb Morse, 39, an Army combat veteran, set up Rustic Renegade, a gun shop and shooting range in 2018 in Lafayette, Louisiana.
Morse had served two combat tours in Iraq with the Army’s 2nd Infantry Division Special Troops Battalion, followed by service in the National Guard, and then worked as a military contractor in Iraq for four years.
One day an Army buddy Morse served with in Iraq showed up at his gun store with his car and his dog. Then he brought a lot of guns inside the store, Morse said, adding: “And I’m like, brother, what are you doing?”
Morse knew well that often when people, especially combat veterans, start giving away their things, they may be considering suicide.
But before Morse could have a chat with his buddy, the vet simply left. And for six months his buddy didn’t answer his phone.
Meanwhile, Morse decided to hold his friend’s guns at Rustic Renegade in case he ever came back.
Thankfully, as CBS News reported:
…his friend called and explained he had been in a bad spot and wondered where his guns were. Morse said he told him, “They’re your guns, man. They’re yours, you may want them back. And whenever you’re ready, they’re here for you.
“More than half of all gun-related deaths in the United States are suicides, according to the Centers for Disease Control. In 2022, the CDC reported that 26,993 people died by firearm suicide. Deaths by gun suicide are at an all-time high and have steadily increased, nearly uninterrupted, since 2006 according to researchers at John Hopkins School of Public Health.
In the veteran population the problem is acute; in its 2022 National Veteran Suicide Prevention Report, the Department of Veterans Affairs found that the suicide rate in 2020 was 57.3 % greater for veterans.
Guns are more commonly involved among veteran suicides, at 71%, than the rest of the population, at 50.3%, according to the CDC.
Soon after his first buddy chose to drop off his guns with Morse, another veteran came by to do the same, telling Morse that he was “in a bad spot.”
Morse, who had similarly been very depressed after returning from Iraq, accepted the vet’s gun and decided to set up a system to hold and track guns being left for storage by troubled vets in his store’s inventory, telling them to pick up their firearms when they felt better.
Within a year, other veterans dropped off guns “about a dozen times,” CBS reported. Since then, he has stored about 100 firearms.
Soon after the second vet asked for gun storage, Morse was contacted by Gala True, an associate professor at Louisiana State University School of Medicine who specializes in efforts to prevent veteran suicides.
According to CBS, she met with Morse in 2021 to work on a project she was coordinating with gun store owners who wanted to store firearm storage for those in crisis who, for a time, didn’t want their firearms in their homes.
The Armory Project was launched in Louisiana that same year with three different gun shop owners interested in providing storage for firearms.
Through a Veterans Administration (VA) grant, True and her team helped the gun dealers build local networks and partnerships.
Mike Anestis, a suicide prevention expert, professor at Rutgers University, and Executive director of the New Jersey Gun Violence Research Center and a professor at Rutgers University, said that in a country with roughly 400 million guns, the solution can’t be about banning firearms or stopping people from buying them.
And Anestis is absolutely correct. Voluntary outside storage, like preventing drunk driving by “taking away the car keys,” is a far better solution for preventing suicide by gunshot, than bans that violate our 2nd Amendment rights.
However, storing guns as part of a gun store’s inventory can cause liability issues.
So, as CBS reported, in July 2023 the Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) got involved (in a good way this time). It issued an open letter to Federal Firearms Licensees (FFL) and gun shops advising how to legally and safely store firearms for these individuals.
Providing gun storage lockers at the gun store that individuals can open themselves and put their firearms inside, is one option.
As the ATF letter states: “In this situation, an FFL does not “receive “or “acquire ” the firearm into its inventory, nor does the FFL assume control of the individual’s firearm.” This can reduce liability for gun shop owners like Morse, who want to provide outside storage for others in need.
This is a great idea, and a great story. Look up The Armory Project and see if you can help with the effort in your state, city, or locality.
Opinions expressed by contributors do not necessarily reflect the views of Great America News Desk.