End gun-free zones on military bases

William Perry Pendley President, Mountain States Legal Foundation
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One can almost forgive the “Democratic strategist” who opined about the Washington Navy Yard massacre, “Everybody with the guns stood around and watched or apparently were unable to stop him. The guns were present. It was a Navy facility!” He should have known better, but most Americans assume, not unreasonably, that our military bases host scores of armed personnel. That has not been the case since 1992 when George H.W. Bush’s Department of Defense ordered the disarming of almost all military personnel across the country. The DOD regulation was reissued in 2011.

One cannot forgive the CNN reporter who proclaimed, “This seems so unusual to me that a gunman could create this kind of havoc at a U.S. military facility. Have you ever heard of this happening before?” As every American but her knows, it happened at Fort Hood in Texas in November of 2009 when thirteen people, including an unborn baby, died and thirty were wounded. A room of unarmed military men and women, many of whom were combat veterans, were attacked by an Army major and Islamic Jihadist who cried “Allahu Akbar” and opened fire with his FN Five-seven pistol. Specialist Frederick Greene, 29, of Mountain City, Tennessee, was killed when he used the only weapon he had, his body, and charged the assailant — he was shot 12 times.

One U.S. senator, responding to the Fort Hood murders, told Army Chief of Staff General George Casey that officers and senior NCOs should be permitted to carry weapons. Casey was “incredulous.” (That is hardly surprising; it was Casey who, as to the massacre that the Obama Administration labels “workplace violence,” declared, “[A]s horrific as this tragedy was, if our diversity becomes a casualty, I think that’s worse.”) Therefore, as were the officers and soldiers at Fort Hood, and the officers and sailors at the Navy Yard, the men and women of our Armed Forces remain unarmed and, as these two events demonstrate, in mortal danger.

I asked one Marine Officer what he, his fellow officers and NCOs, and Marine staff had been advised regarding a possible attack on their isolated office building by an armed assailant moving down the hallway firing methodically into each office. “We were told first, to attempt to flee, second, to hide, and third, if discovered, to resist with ‘maximum force’,” he said. “I guess I could throw my stapler at him.” This is a Marine with a tour in Iraq under his belt, qualified as an expert with the Berretta 9mm pistol he owns, and authorized by the laws of the state in which he resides to carry concealed his Smith & Wesson XDM .45 pistol, equipped with a 13-round magazine. He can protect himself and his wife and children from intruders and, when outside his home — where authorized by state law — he can protect himself and others; however, when he puts on his uniform, drives to, works at, and returns home from his duty station, he is unarmed.

These things happen in threes, or so they say. It is not difficult to imagine the third of this tragic trilogy, just as the Jihadist attacks by land (New York in 1993) and by sea (the USS Cole in 2000), presaged the one by air in 2001. The closest thing to a Marine Corps “petting zoo” is the graduation of young Marines at the Parris Island, South Carolina, and San Diego, California, Recruit Depots. The gates are opened to any vehicle whose driver has a driver’s license; no vehicle inspections are conducted. Signs show the way to the parade ground where bleachers are filled with hundreds of fathers and mothers, brothers and sisters, and other proud relatives and friends. There are also scores of officers, NCOs, and enlisted Marines, including a number of flag-grade general officers. With the exception of the ceremonial M16s held by some new privates, there is not a functional weapon among them.

Should an Islamic Jihadist (or for that matter an insane Jesuit; the Navy Yard killer was a convert to the non-violent religion of Buddhism), as the festivities are in full swing, emerge shooting from his vehicle armed with weapons he snuck in — legal ones like the pistol used at Fort Hood or the shotgun used at the Navy Yard — the carnage would be great, especially because the retort of the few weapons in good guys’ hands weapons would not be recognized above the noise. Once it was evident what was occurring, murderous mayhem would ensue. Then, when every second counts as people fight, flee, or fall dead and wounded, armed security would be only minutes away. In the ten or fifteen endless minutes it would take for Military Police from the guard shack or the skeleton crew of Marines at the Provost Marshal’s office to arrive, how many would be killed and wounded?

It need not occur. Were officers and senior NCOs permitted to carry openly their side-arms on military installations, those facilities would no longer be gun-free zones and, as we have learned over the past decades, those with murderous intent would seek other, safer (for them) killing fields.

After the Navy Yard tragedy, Defense Secretary Hagel ordered “several department-wide reviews.” Let us hope he makes the common-sense decision to permit the most skilled and trusted among us to protect themselves and those with whom they serve and work.