Bill Would Let Commanders Authorize Troops to Carry Guns on US Bases

Fort Huachuca Main Post Exchange gun sales supervisor Dawn Deslatte shows Sgt. 1st Class Atthaporm Khaek-on, 309th Military Intelligence Battalion, an American Classic handgun at the PX gun counter (Photo: Gabrielle Kuholski)
Fort Huachuca Main Post Exchange gun sales supervisor Dawn Deslatte shows Sgt. 1st Class Atthaporm Khaek-on, 309th Military Intelligence Battalion, an American Classic handgun at the PX gun counter (Photo: Gabrielle Kuholski)

Defense legislation lawmakers agreed to this week would let commanders authorize troops to carry guns on military bases in the U.S.

The annual defense authorization bill calls for Defense Secretary Ashton Carter to establish a process by Dec. 31 in which commanders can authorize a service member at a military installation, reserve center, recruiting location or defense facility in the U.S. to carry a gun on the premises if he or she "determines that carrying such a firearm is necessary as a personal- or force-protection measures."

The legislation -- which President Obama plans to veto over an unrelated issue -- comes just months after a four Marines and a sailor were shot and killed in a shooting at two military facilities in Chattanooga, Tennessee. The gunman, Muhammad Youssef Abdulazeez, was killed by police in a gunfight.

A fact-sheet released Tuesday by the House Armed Services Committee, headed by Rep. William "Mac" Thornberry, also referenced the June incident at Little Rock Air Force Base, Arkansas, where an armed man was shot and killed after crashing his SUV while trying to break into the installation; the 2009 shooting at Fort Hood, Texas, in which 13 people were killed and more than 30 injured; and the 2014 shooting at Fort Hood, in which four people, including the gunman, were killed and 14 were injured.

"Tragic domestic attacks on DOD personnel, including those at Little Rock, Chattanooga, and Fort Hood, convinced Conferees that a one-size-fits-all force protection standard for domestic installations is inadequate, especially where carrying personal firearms is involved," the document states.

"The NDAA makes clear that post commanders are empowered to permit a member of the Armed Forces to carry appropriate firearms, including personal firearms, at DOD installations, reserve centers, and recruiting centers," it states. "The Secretary of Defense must implement a policy to so empower post commanders no later than December 31, 2015."

Existing policy, which dates to 1992, states that arming service members beyond military police and those who work in law enforcement "shall be limited to missions or threats."

Some officials, including former Army Chief of Staff Gen. Raymond Odierno, have warned of "over-arming" troops. The issue has come up during the president debate. Sen. Ted Cruz, a Republican from Texas and a presidential candidate, has said troops should be allowed to carry their own concealed firearms on base.

"I think it's very important to have a public discussion about why we're denying our soldiers the ability to exercise their Second Amendment rights," he told a group of about 120 gun owners at a hunting club in April in Litchfield, New Hampshire, according to Politico.

Military spouses who commented on Military.com's SpouseBuzz Facebook page were split on whether arming troops on base is a good idea.

"Having our men and women be able to defend themselves should fall under common sense," Crystal Barns wrote. "I have seen increased security at Reserve stations and that makes me happy. But I think adding this would make those place much more of a hard target. Let's not make life easy on those who would wish our men and women in uniform harm."

Those who favored the proposal agreed that personnel carrying a firearm on post should have a permit to do so.

Others worried the change could lead to greater risk.

"While in theory it makes sense, I can see that being a hot mess in practice," Bethany Ladd wrote. "For instance, here at Joint Base San Antonio they don't check your car, at all. Heck, they barely check IDs even though one of the bases is at Bravo. So what's the point/benefit to allowing the carry personal weapons?"

Most Americans favor stricter gun control laws, according to a recent survey by the Pew Research Center. About 85 percent favor background checks at gun shows and private sales, 79 percent support laws to prevent the mentally ill from buying guns, 70 percent favor a federal database to track gun sales and 57 percent support a ban on assault weapons, according to the organization's poll of 2,002 adults conducted from July 14 to July 20.

The House of Representatives plans to vote on the bill today, though President Obama has threatened to veto the bill because it would add tens of billions of dollars from the base budget to the war budget to skirt federal spending gaps.

--Brendan McGarry can be reached at brendan.mcgarry@military.com.

--Amy Bushatz can be reached at amy.bushatz@military.com.

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