"I've been around guns all my life," Gen. Mark Milley said during a recent hearing on Capitol Hill. "I know how to use them. And arming our people on our military bases and allowing them to carry concealed privately owned weapons -- I do not recommend that as a course of action."
His comments came during an April 7 hearing of the Senate Armed Services Committee in response to a question from Sen. Mike Lee, a Republican from Utah, who asked about letting troops carry firearms at military installations abroad.
Congress last year approved language in the annual defense authorization bill to let commanders authorize more troops -- not just military police -- to carry guns on a military installation, reserve center, recruiting station or defense facility in the U.S. as a force-protection measure.
During the hearing, Lee cited the July 16, 2015, shooting at two military facilities in Chattanooga, Tennessee, in which four Marines and a sailor were shot and killed. The gunman, Muhammad Youssef Abdulazeez, was killed by police in a gunfight.
"Following the Chattanooga attacks last year, my office received a lot of calls, emails, letters and communications of every sort from constituents having connections to all the branches of the military," he said. "These constituents were expressing concerns about force protection at domestic bases and at international bases, especially for their families."
Lee asked Milley, "Tell me, what has the Army done to improve force protection of the United States and at bases in Europe and the Middle East, where they're sort of targets for attacks? What other options are being considered, including the possibility of allowing soldiers to carry personal firearms on the base in order to protect themselves?"
Milley made a distinction in how the policy is implemented at smaller locations such as a recruiting center in Chattanooga and bigger installations like Fort Hood in Texas.
"With respect to post camps and stations that are small, isolated, they're ... inside of communities ... recruiting stations such as Chattanooga -- the assessments are done by local commanders," he said
Former Army Secretary John McHugh "delegated the authority in the assessment to the commanders, which is appropriate. Commanders should make those decisions because once size won't fit all. It'll depend on locality, risk and so on," Milley said. "But some of the constraints on that -- people have to be trained, it must be a government-owned weapon -- they can't carry privately owned weapons."
In terms of the larger installations, "in terms of carrying privately owned weapons on military bases -- concealed privately owned weapons -- that is not authorized," he said. "That is a DoD policy. I do not recommend that it be changed. We have adequate law enforcement on those bases to respond."
Milley cited the Nov. 5, 2009, mass shooting at Fort Hood, in which 13 people were killed and 42 others were injured. The day of the shooting, Nidal Hasan, then an Army major and psychiatrist, entered the Fort Hood deployment center carrying two pistols, jumped on a desk and shouted "Allahu Akbar!" -- Arabic for "God is great" -- then opened fire.
Milley defended the time it took for law enforcement there to secure the scene.
"Those police responded within eight minutes," he said. "So that's pretty quick. And a lot of people died in the process of that. But that was a very fast, evolving event and I am not convinced from what I know that carrying privately owned weapons would have stopped that individual."
Note: This story was updated to remove an inaccuarate reference in the last paragraph. Hasan was paralyzed in the incident but survived and is now imprisoned at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas.