Fort Hood: A soldiers right to bear arms and military base safety

Soldiers at Fort Hood, TX
Soldiers at Fort Hood, TX

WASHINGTON, April 3, 2014 — The latest Fort Hood shooting is reigniting the debate over allowing soldiers on U.S. bases to carry weapons. Currently, soldiers do not have access to private weapons when on-base. Soldiers retain their Constitutional rights to bear arms, however on a military post, it also has to be legal to carry that weapon on post.

Army Regulation 90-114, passed in 1993, prohibits anyone who is not involved with law enforcement or security from carrying weapons on military installations.

However, this does not constitute complete disarming of soldiers on bases. The regulation allows law enforcement personnel to carry weapons to:

  1. Conduct law enforcement activities including cases or investigations of espionage, sabotage, and other serious crimes in which Department of Army (DA) programs, personnel, or property are involved and investigations conducted in hazardous areas or under hazardous circumstances.
  2. Protect classified information, systems, or equipment.
  3. Protect the President of the United States, high ranking Government officials, DOD personnel, or foreign dignitaries.
  4. Protect DOD assets and personnel.
  5.  Guard prisoners.

Military and civilian personnel may be authorized to carry firearms for personal protection when the responsible intelligence center identifies a credible and specific threat against DA personnel in that regional area. Firearms will not be issued indiscriminately for that purpose.

Before individuals are authorized to carry a firearm for personal protection under this regulation, the authorizing official must evaluate:

  1. The probability of the threat in a particular location.
  2. The adequacy of support by DA or DOD protective personnel.
  3. The adequacy of protection by U.S. or host nation authorities.
  4. The effectiveness of other means to avoid personal attacks.

Regulations also allow officers with a field grade rank or higher, or civilian equivalent of GS-12 or above, to authorize the carrying of firearms. Additionally, the Secretary of the Army has authority to authorize carrying for personal protection within the continental United States.

Even so, military personnel report that strict controls effectively not only limit the ability of soldiers to carry weapons on base, but they encourage military personnel to skirt regulations.

“For soldiers living in the barracks, it’s nearly impossible for them to legitimately have privately owned weapons on base, that they can actually have access to because they are required to keep them in the unit gun safes,” Chad Jennings, a graduate of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point who served three tours in Iraq, says. ” So a soldier who has a concealed carry permit that wants to go off-base for the weekend usually can’t even get access to their own weapon because the unit safe is closed on weekends. This also leads to soldiers bypassing the regulations and keeping unsecure weapons in their cars and potential theft issues.”

Supporters of carrying weapons also note that the irony that those stationed overseas carry loaded weapons at all times, something they are not trusted to do while in the United States.

Other military personnel, however, question the effectiveness and viability of allowing soldiers to carry personal weapons on a base. A military base is effectively a residential neighborhood, they say, and the idea of individuals fully-armed at all times could present problems. They also question whether having personal fire arms on bases would have prevented the recent shooting.

Another West Point graduate notes, “There is a large police presence on military bases although many are civilian police these days. And yes, there is strict gun regulation of military bases. Years ago, the military decided that it didn’t want just anyone to strap on a gun and walk around base so you need to register your weapon and keep it in a lock box where it needs to be signed out. Specialist Lopez violated this policy.”

Larry Engles, a member of the Special Forces and an intelligence officer, notes, “The guy at Fort Hood was being treated for some king of mental illness, and should not have had a gun. Period. That’s exactly why we have strict restrictions on bases. There are plenty of weapons on bases. We need to change the policy on people with mental illness having guns, not on the number of guns on bases.”

Carlos Lang, USMC, Marine Security Guard says he is authorized to carry weapons on bases, but elects not to, “When I am on a base visiting, I check my weapon. Those authorized to provide security on bases do so. I don’t want the guy sitting next to me at the bar loaded up with his weapon.  so no, I don’t want to change the policy.”

After the 2009 Fort Hood shooting, the U.S. government held joint hearings to better understand the reasons for the violence and to suggest changes to help protect soldiers. Fort Hood revamped security at the base after the 2009 violence to better protect soldiers from “insider threats.”

The Commander of Fort Hood, Lieutenant General Mark Milley credited those new policies with protecting Fort Hood personnel from further assault yesterday. Miley said, “I think the response from the law enforcement and the medical folks displayed clear lessons learned from the previous case.”

Speaking from the flight deck of the USS Anchorage, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel noted that the shooting yesterday shows there are still security problems that the military needs to address. Hagel told reporters, “So we’ll identify it, we’ll get the facts, and we’ll fix it.”

The latest tragedy is likely to prompt another review of security and another set of recommendations. In the meantime, the debate over gun control on bases is likely to continue.

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Lisa M. Ruth
Lisa M. Ruth is Editor-in-Chief of CDN. In addition to her editing and leadership duties, she also writes on international events, intelligence, and other topics. She has worked with CDN as a journalist since 2009. Lisa is also President of CTC International Group, Inc., a research and analysis firm in South Florida, providing actionable intelligence to decisionmakers. She started her career at the CIA, where she won several distinguished awards for her service. She holds an MA in international relations from the University of Virginia, and a BA in international relations from George Mason University. She also serves as Chairman of the Board of Horses Healing Hearts, and is involved with several other charitable organizations, including Habitat for Humanity, The Boys and Girls Clubs of America, and AYSO.