The Defense Department on Thursday came out squarely against giving weapons to every service member on a domestic military installation despite a growing clamor in Congress for such a step in the wake of the Tennessee shooting rampage.
Navy Capt. Jeff Davis, a Pentagon spokesman, said Defense Secretary Ash Carter is awaiting recommendations from the five military services on fortifying their recruiting centers and domestic bases following the July 15 assault that left six people dead – four Marines, a Navy corpsman and the shooter, Kuwait-born Mohammad Youssuf Abdulazeez – at a naval reserve center in Chattanooga.
“We do not support arming all military personnel for a variety of reasons,” Davis told reporters at the Pentagon. “(There are) safety concerns, the prohibitive cost for use-of-force and weapons training, qualification costs as well as compliance with multiple weapons-training laws.”
A bipartisan group of lawmakers, however, advanced legislation to remove at least some of the limits imposed on service members in the United States under Presidents George H.W. Bush, a Republican, and Bill Clinton, a Democrat, in the 1990s.
Sen. Jerry Moran, a Kansas Republican, introduced a bill Thursday that would repeal partial prohibitions on military personnel carrying firearms at domestic installations.
“Our men and women in uniform are banned from exercising this constitutional right when fulfilling their duties on American soil,” Moran said. “This infringement on the constitutional rights of our service members has caused American military installations and DOD sites to become increasingly vulnerable to those who wish to do harm.”
In addition to the Chattanooga tragedy, Moran cited four earlier attacks since 2009 when gunmen killed and wounded military personnel at the Navy Yard in Washington, D.C., the Pentagon in Virginia, a recruiting center in Little Rock, Ark., and at Fort Hood in Texas.
Moran’s measure would repeal a Defense Department directive issued Feb. 25, 1992, and an Army regulation issued in March 1993, both of which places limits on where and under what circumstances service members can carry loaded weapons while on base.
In the House, Republican Rep. Scott DesJarlais and Democratic Rep. Steve Cohen, both of Tennessee, gathered 17 co-sponsors from both parties for a similar bill.
“We know our military facilities and recruitment centers are targets, and the five victims of last week’s attack in Chattanooga are sad evidence that more must be done to keep them safe,” Cohen said.
Two other Republican lawmakers, Sen. Steve Daines of Montana, an Iraq war veteran, and Rep. Duncan Hunter of California put forward a narrower bill that would authorize one armed service member to be placed at a military recruiting center, many of which are at shopping malls, high schools, universities and other public places to encourage greater access.
Some Americans were not waiting for Congress or the Pentagon to change their laws or practices.
Armed citizens, some alone and others in groups, were standing guard at recruiting centers in Texas, Alabama, Ohio, Virginia and Wisconsin.
Army veteran Terry Jackson said he felt it was his duty to guard the recruiting center in Cleburn, Texas.
“It was unacceptable for our soldiers, sailors, our men and women of the military to go over and serve and go into combat, and then come back here to the homeland and be gunned down on their home duty stations,” Jackson told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.
A former Special Operations officer, who requested anonymity in order to speak candidly about armed forces’ training, said many service members lack sufficient skills to carry loaded weapons.
“If you’re going to be involved at recruiting centers or protecting the public, you should be able to fire at least 84 percent of your rounds into a life-size target at 25 yards,” the officer told McClatchy.
He said most military personnel are not at that level of weapons proficiency.
Nevertheless, some military leaders disagreed with the current prohibitions in place.
At his Senate confirmation hearing to become Army chief of staff, Gen. Mark Milley said the Pentagon should weigh arming recruiters and other personnel.
“I think under certain conditions, both on military bases and in outstations, we should seriously consider it, and under certain conditions, I think it’s appropriate,” Milley told the Senate Armed Services Committee on Tuesday.
Martin Schwartz, a former New York City police officer and retired criminal investigator for the U.S. Treasury Department, said the number of military police needs to be increased and more of them should be sent to recruiting centers.
Schwartz also said that the current regulation that prohibits some military police from carry loaded handguns while on duty should be repealed.
“This is an insane policy that places them and the public at risk,” Schwartz told McClatchy. “It takes too long in an emergency to rack a round into an empty chamber. That’s life-or-death time.”
Gov. Bobby Jindal, a Louisiana Republican who is running for president, expressed no sympathy for claims by Abdulazeez’s family that he suffered from depression in the months leading up to his assault.
“@BobbyJindal: Is any terrorist who kills innocent people in cold blood mentally healthy? No; stop w/excuses for Radical Islam,” Jindal tweeted.
At a news conference in Chattanooga, the FBI said at least one service member at the Navy reserve center there had fired several rounds at Abdulazeez, but it was not known whether those bullets hit him. Chattanooga police killed the shooter.
Edward W. Reinhold, special agent in charge of the FBI’s Knoxville office, said the four Marines and one sailor appeared to have been killed by Abdulazeez, not by friendly fire.
“All indications are – and we do not have the ballistic reports back – preliminarily, it looks like all victims were killed with the same weapon,” he said.
Reinhold said his agents had 400 leads in the case and cautioned against assuming that Abdulazeez, who had made several trips to Jordan in recent years, had been inspired by radical Muslims.
“At this point, we’re treating him as a homegrown violent extremist,” Reinhold said.
Reinhold and military officials said Abdulazeez’s rampage lasted three to five minutes after he crashed his car through a security gate, left the vehicle with an assault weapon and a handgun, began firing outside the reserve center and continued shooting once inside.
Marine Corps Maj. Gen. Paul Brier said some of his troops inside the center shielded others and tried to engage Abdulazeez. He said more people would have died had it not been for their bravery.
“Our Marines reacted the way you would expect, rapidly going room to room, getting people to safety,” Brier said. “After they had gotten to safety, some willingly ran back into the fight.”