The right to conceal and carry on military bases



Blatantly, we train our troops to kill, equip them with the most advanced weapons, and send them to war. However, a directive, called the 1992 Department of Defense (DOD) directive—signed by Donald J. Atwood, George H. W. Bush’s deputy secretary of defense—essentially eliminates the freedom of carrying firearms on military installations, except for active-duty military police. It explicitly authorizes DOD personnel “to carry firearms while engaged in law enforcement or security duties, protecting personnel, vital Government assets, or guarding prisoners,” and simply aims to “limit and control the carrying of firearms by DOD military and civilian personnel.”

The authorization to carry firearms shall be issued only to qualified personnel when there is a reasonable expectation that life or DOD assets will be jeopardized if firearms are not carried.

The debate if more military personnel—those that are not military police—should be able to carry guns on base is one of several recurring security questions arising lately. This debate is particularly an issue at Fort Hood, the nation’s largest Army base and scene of the 2009 attack, and most recently, the shooting which left three (four including the shooter) dead, and 16 injured.

This recent shooting at Ft. Hood is the third mass shooting on a military base in five years. How many more shootings on military installations will need to take place in order for government to realize that lives are being jeopardized because they are restricting the right to carry? Living in Hawaii—a state which is prevalent with military presence—I have many friends that live on military bases. In fact, my own fiancée is enlisted and works on a military base. When I hear about all these mass shootings, a thing that is becoming more commonplace in America, I worry about my loved ones. I believe that congress should change the Defense Department policy to allow guns to be carried on military installations by those other than military police.

With the recent shootings at military bases throughout the US, It’s coming to a point where families are starting to question the military’s power to protect their own. Right now, only military police and very few other ‘qualified personnel’ are allowed to carry weapons on base. And the problem is, when it comes time to face a life or death situation, and protect those residing on the base, military police are taking too long to respond. Although the six minute response time before military police arrived at the scene last week at Fort Hood seems short, it proved much too long for the three people killed and 16 wounded. But what if that six minutes could have been six seconds thanks to a member of the military executing his right to conceal and carry? Maybe the death and injury count could have been substantially lower. In every military base shooting, what stops these shooters is another person with a gun—we know that. So in this case, if other people had been armed on that base it is highly possible that some of these lives could have been saved.

However, opponents argue that even well-meaning people can miss a shot or accidentally discharge a weapon. But these concerns are really only hypothetical; in reality, soldiers have been trusted at bases in Iraq and Afghanistan without any shooting incidents. Even in the military there is varying levels of training and capability of using weapons—some soldiers have been in longer than others and have more practice, some of them have extensive weapons training, and others minimal—and there has not been any incidents of accidental shootings. The fears about soldiers being armed have also been voiced by civilian concealed handgun permit holders—even though many mass public shootings have been stopped by those very people. So why is it okay for civilians to carry, but not military?

Master Sgt. C.J. Grisham points out that there have been “nearly two dozen shootings at U.S. military installations” since the 1993 ban. Yet such attacks have not occurred in Iraq and Afghanistan, where virtually all soldiers have carried a loaded weapon. Nor were they occurring when guns used to be allowed to be carried on U.S. bases. Gun-free zones in the military have not worked any better than they have in civilian life… so why not allow soldiers to exercise their second amendment right and allow them the satisfaction of personal security by letting them carry on base?

In fact, it is now perfectly legal to carry a concealed firearm in public everywhere in the country except for Washington, D.C.—with varying restrictions on who exactly is allowed to carry and where he or she can do so. In Texas, the location of Fort Hood, residents pay a $140 fee, attend up to six hours of training, undergo a criminal background check and have to pass both a written and a shooting proficiency test to qualify for a concealed handgun license. “You just have to think it through,” said Texas Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson, a retired U.S. Marine Corps officer, who as a state senator in 1995 crafted the state’s concealed handgun law. “If we say that soldiers shouldn’t be carrying concealed weapons on military bases but at the same time we allow the civilian population who are less knowledgeable, and less trained with firearms, what are we inferring about our soldiers?”

At the same time, I firmly don’t believe that just anyone in the military should be handed over a gun. For safety reasons, we should take more precautions with firearms on base. Individuals registering on or off base should be extensively evaluated. Such evaluations should consist of extensive background checks and comprehensive psychiatric screenings to better regulate who has possession of arms on base. A person who has a history of post-traumatic stress, anxiety or depression, or anyone who may present as threats to themselves or others unexpectedly, especially if such individuals have quick access to a gun, should not be allowed a conceal and carry permit on base.

Furthermore, opponents of concealed carry on bases also argue that military supervisors have enough to worry about without the concern that a soldier made unhappy by a particular order could be packing a hidden firearm. Geoffrey Corn, professor at South Texas College of Law in Houston, and 20-year Army officer opposes proposals to allow concealed weapons on bases. He believes: “The idea of carrying a concealed weapon is really inconsistent with the military culture; and that the military is an organization where leaders routinely issue orders to subordinates that are frequently unpleasant.”

Similarly to Corn, other opponents argue that the military has a structure for a reason—to keep order. They believe that order cannot be kept if individuals are allowed to carry firearms. Structure and order provide a safety net that aids in the prevention of inside threats, threats made by fellow Americans or service members. If there is a case of a threat, there are protocols that prepare our soldiers for immediate action. Opponents dispute the argument that military members need to be armed for protection, because they believe that we have members who are armed and who are responsible for keeping us safe already.

Houston, Texas attorney Charles Cotton, who was involved in writing the state’s concealed weapon law and sits on the National Rifle Association’s board of directors, argues that it’s time to reconsider concealed carry on bases: “It’s a political decision to disarm soldiers while on base,” Cotton said. “There’s no justification from a safety or security standpoint.” Other supporters of concealed carry on bases believe that gun-free zones make those who work and live in them susceptible to armed attackers.

Additionally, John Lott, author of “More Guns, Less Crime,” and father of a son who is a Fort Hood soldier believes that “Good soldiers obey the rules against carrying guns, and those who want to do harm know that military bases are an easy target because they know that military personnel generally follow the rules against carrying guns.” Lott also says: “Instead of making places safer, disarming [soldiers] leaves them sitting ducks while those who want to do harm seek out venues where they don’t have to worry about victims defending themselves. With just two exceptions, every public mass shooting in the USA since at least 1950 has taken place where citizens are banned from carrying guns.”

More than 11 million Americans can legally carry concealed handguns. Conceal and carry holders are next to us in restaurants, movie theaters and stores. Permit holders are law abiding, committing even the most trivial firearms violations at a rate of hundreds of 1%.

American police also understand this.  Last year, PoliceOne, the largest organization of police officers in the U.S. with 450,000 members, asked its members: “What would help most in preventing large scale shootings in public?” Their most frequent answer was “more permissive concealed carry policies for civilians.”

The Defense Department has considered, twice, whether putting more guns in the hands of on-base personnel would make its facilities safer: after the 2009 Fort Hood shooting and after last year’s Washington Navy Yard massacre. Both times, Defense Department spokesman Damien Pickart said, the Pentagon declined to change policy, deciding that arming more people on base would pose safety problems and that the military would have to provide a lot of additional, costly weapons training. Recall that the 1992 Department of Defense (DOD) directive states that: the authorization to carry firearms shall be issued only to qualified personnel when there is a reasonable expectation that life or DOD assets will be jeopardized if firearms are not carried.

When you have concrete facts that prove that military bases are being targeted simply because murderers know they are an easy target, amongst other reasons, and yet the government does not allow guns to be carried, it seems as if they are contradicting the very directive that they have introduced in order to keep bases and military personnel safe. It seems as if the Defense Department ranks the lives of the people that serve our country each and every day subordinate to additional ‘costly weapons training’ and nonexistent safety problems.

Of course, not everyone on a military base need to be armed. Just enough for the murderer to realize that soldiers will be able to respond more quickly, for them to know that they may not have minutes to kill, but merely seconds in hopes that the rate of military base shootings will diminish. Of course, there is no absolute way to deter someone who is undeniably determined to kill. However, we can protect our military personnel and our people if we allow our soldiers the choice to bear arms and permit them to conceal and carry on base.


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