A Veteran's Case for Implementing Military Gun Standards in Our Society

An illustration of an Army star and a camo background

I didn’t know it was a problem. I grew up doing tornado drills in school. Now, my kids do routine active shooter drills at school. In less than twenty-five years, school shootings have become a common tragedy. 

More than 9,870 Americans have died by gun deaths since January 1st of this year, according to the Gun Violence Archive. We lost 2,799 lives on 9/11. This means we’ve experienced more than three 9/11s since January 1st. 

For the first time in our history as a nation, gun deaths have surpassed auto accidents as the number one cause of death for our children. Auto accidents had previously been the number one cause of death for children for more than 60 years. 

Gun deaths are a problem — and we have waited far too long for a solution.

I served as a combat medic in the Army for eight years. I was trained to save lives on the battlefield from gunshot wounds, and I also qualified as a sharpshooter with my M-16 —  the military version of the civilian AR-15. 

I know guns. When I was deployed to the battlefield of Iraq for 397 days, I lived with one strapped to my hip. 

Before we entered any chow hall for meals, there was a barrel full of sand where every soldier had to clear and discharge their gun to prove there wasn’t a bullet in the chamber

Putting on the safety switch wasn’t safe enough.

Soldiers clear their weapons by placing them inside red clearing barrels
Soldiers are photographed using clearing barrels, which act as a security check. They place their weapon inside the clearing barrel to ensure that there are no rounds hidden inside. / Photo courtesy of the U.S. Army

The Army was militant about gun safety because they valued and protected their soldiers’ lives. They weren’t willing to lose a single soldier to an accidental gun death. 

One day we were on a mission, and the chow hall was run by Czech troops. They didn’t require guns to be cleared and discharged before entering to eat. We were all so hungry, but none of us would go in. We wouldn’t risk it. 

We valued our lives more than being in a room with a bunch of soldiers who didn’t follow gun safety standards. 

We respected guns and their ability to kill.

In Iraq, whichever squad had the most dangerous mission got the Medic — me — to be in their Humvee, so if something bad happened, I would be right there to keep them alive and call in a medical helicopter. 

I saw a lot of things I never imagined when I enlisted at 17 years old. And in this unlikely place, surrounded by things I never imagined, I found my purpose in life: to be a peacemaker.

On the battlefield, this meant that I would give my life or take a bullet for another soldier, an Iraqi, or even an enemy. But I would never take a life. And after I left the Army, this meant that I would seek out other ways to wage peace and fight for safety and security without violence.

So how do we wage peace in the wake of another shooting? What’s the answer to saving lives and ending the all-too-common tragedy of mass shootings and gun deaths? 

I believe the Army can show us how.

The Army follows a number of gun standards that truly save lives in the military. Soldiers are held to a minimum safety standard — and I believe that every American who owns a gun should be held to the same standard. It’s not a high standard, it is simply common sense.

Let’s talk about these standards…

These Army gun standards can truly save lives:

Gold Army star on a camo background

#1. Annual Weapons Qualification Test

Every year, for the eight years I was in the Army, I was required to go to a shooting range and pass a weapons qualification test

I would show up in person and an instructor would ensure I was physically and mentally capable of loading and unloading my firearm, obeying fast-paced instructions, and accurately shooting moving targets — all while maintaining safety for those around me. 

Army gun standards required us to prove we are not a danger to ourselves or those around us. 

A Pass means you are issued a weapons qualification card. A Fail means you aren’t issued a gun. 

No loopholes, no entitlement, just common sense standards. 

As a medic, we put the safety of the whole above the individual. And we were better off for it.

#2. 100% Accountability for Securing Weapons

During basic training, I was issued a gun — and that gun’s serial number was immediately connected to my social security number

It was my gun — and my responsibility to secure that gun. If someone else had access to take it or use it, it was my failure, and I was 100% accountable for those consequences. 

Usually, the consequences of not securing a weapon would be for it to be taken away for negligence — because it’s a lethal weapon with the power to cause catastrophic harm. 

#3. Concealed and Open Carry Banned on Bases

Base law enforcement officers and military police are the only people permitted to both concealed and open carry guns on most bases, according to The Military Times

In July 2015, members of Congress were pushing for troops to be allowed to carry weapons on base, but General Mark Milley, now chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, responded by saying, “I don't think soldiers should have concealed weapons on base.” 

Most bases do not allow any personal firearms to be brought on the installation or stored in base housing or barracks. Troops living in barracks typically must register and store them in a base firearms storage facility. 

In 2023, a panel even made a recommendation to the Defense Department that an even further reduction in access to firearms on military bases could significantly reduce suicide rates among service members.

If soldiers don’t practice carrying personal guns on bases it begs the question of whether civilians might be better off without carrying firearms into Taco Bell or Walmart. 

These are the gun standards my fellow soldiers and I were held to during our time in the Army, and I believe they served us well and saved lives — and continue to do so. They aren’t yet requirements for gun ownership in the United States, but countries around the world have implemented similar standards to great success.

Japan, for example, requires gun owners to attend an all-day class, pass a written test (similar to a driving test), and then achieve at least 95% accuracy shooting at a target. That’s on top of a background check, family interviews, and a mental health evaluation at a hospital. Guns are fairly prominent in Israel, but registration with the government is still required and there is a limit of one gun per owner. Many other countries have limited the types of guns that can be issued and require a gun safety class for ownership.

I believe we have an opportunity for the United States to join the rest of the world by implementing common-sense gun reform.

Adopting Army gun standards into law would ensure the Constitutional right to use a gun is connected to the public responsibility of owning a gun. 

Minimum safety standards keep gun owners safe by requiring them to have and maintain the proficiency to protect themselves and those around them at all times.

In 2010, only two states allowed adults to carry a gun without a permit. As of 2023, 50% of states allow anybody to carry a gun — no permit, testing, or safety training required. This is dangerous. But, I believe we can still reverse course and implement common-sense reform.

To be sure, we don’t all have to hold the same opinions on guns, the military, or politics in order for us to agree we need to do something.

The people I served alongside in the Army held a wide range of political beliefs, but we shared the belief that we carry the responsibility to keep one another safe, even at our own personal sacrifice.

To be sure, we don’t all have to hold the same opinions on guns, the military, or politics in order for us to agree we need to do something. The people I served alongside in the Army held a wide range of political beliefs, but we shared the belief that we carry the responsibility to keep one another safe, even at our own personal sacrifice. — Diana Oestreich

Unity is not conformity. 

We can pass laws that regulate behavior, without requiring anyone to change their opinions or politics. 

“Laws cannot change hearts but they can protect our children from the heartless” as Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. says.

As a veteran, I know freedom is not free, and neither is personal freedom without public responsibility.

As a veteran, I know freedom is not free, and neither is personal freedom without public responsibility. — — Diana Oestreich

We want our kids to be free to go to school without fear. We each want to be safe to spend time in public without being afraid of another shooting.

Let’s take action today, for the tomorrow that we dream of for our kids. Call your representatives and tell them to pass military gun standards. 

Diana Oestreich is a soldier turned peacemaker and author of the book Waging Peace.

She describes herself as a peacemaker, author, activist, veteran, and former sexual assault nurse. Speaking across the country she empowers audiences to “identify our own rural, urban, political, or religious divides to cross our own ‘enemy lines’ in order to remake the world and heal all that’s tearing us apart.”

She’s appeared on multiple podcasts and blogs discussing justice, faith, peacemaking, refugees, anti-racism, activism with kids, and how her posture of love shapes how she parents and shows up for her neighbors.

Diana, her partner Jake and their two sons, Bridger and Zelalem live along the shores of Lake Superior on Ojibwe land. They are an Ethiopian-American family woven together through adoption and a shared love for bad jokes and competitive card games.

You can get to know Diana, read the first chapter of her book for free, and learn more about The Waging Peace Project at dianaoestreich.com.

Article Details

March 29, 2023 8:34 AM
Keys resting on a hand

This building in Detroit was transformed into permanent housing for veterans experiencing homelessness

Four organizations in the city and a national partner used their relationships and data to reduce homelessness toward “functional zero.”
A group of diverse women Service Members stand in a line

Women veterans are receiving more benefits, care from VA than ever before

Progress is attributed to legislative measures and ongoing initiatives such as the PACT Act and the new Women's Health Research Collaborative.
Orange image of a large heart with government building overlay

19 Things You Can Do To Stop Gun Violence

There are so many things we can each do to prevent gun violence, school shootings, suicide, and more. We’ve compiled a list of resources for you to get started...
Silhouette of a veteran in front of a colorful abstract sky

What To Say Instead of Thanking a Veteran for Their Service

When we as a society look at veterans as help cases, we end up perpetuating the problem.

Want to stay up-to-date on positive news?

The best email in your inbox.
Filled with the day’s best good news.