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Disarming the Profession of Arms: Why Disarm Servicemembers on Bases?

When you swear the oath to support and defend the Constitution of the United States in uniform you give up many of the rights guaranteed therein.  Freedom of speech, particularly of the political variety, is gone.  Search and seizure can be at the whim of the commander based upon probable cause that would be illegal outside the gates of our forts. In the draft era, even the basic “life, liberty and property” was subordinated to the Spartan needs of service to the nation.

We accept these realities as part of our responsibility to the document we proudly defend. However, perhaps unknown to the general public, servicemembers’ right to possess, store, and carry personal firearms, on and off post, is much more restricted than any American civilian’s right to do so. In a time when American servicemembers are being specifically targeted at home and at military installations, limiting their right to keep and bear arms—a right still granted to every other citizen not in uniform—no longer makes sense.

Military servicemembers and their families are directly threatened by various permutations of Jihadi Islam.  The threat is legitimate and demonstrable; Tennessee, Canada, New Jersey, Arkansas, and, of course, Fort Hood, Texas.  The military’s response to these attacks is sadly predictable.  We will tighten security on the various bases and forts, which in turn makes them, and the soldiers within, increasingly inaccessible to the general public.  The troublesome divide between the nation and the men and women who defend it will become wider and deeper.  To the senior officers of the military who invariably live on these well-defended military installations, I am sure these actions will appear to do something to safeguard the men and women they command.

In what will become an iconic photo in the gun rights community, the bullet holes surrounding the gun-free-zone sign at the recruiting station in Tennessee perfectly illustrates the foolishness of such zones.

These assumptions would be wrong.  Obviously these actions would have done nothing to protect the marines and sailors slaughtered unarmed in Tennessee.  And it will do nothing to counter the insider threat personified by Major Hassan and Sergeant Akbar.  Aside from the nearly one best online casinomillion reservists who, of course, live in the local community, a huge percentage of active military members live outside the fenced and guarded bases.  No amount of passive defenses can protect our service members and their families from attacks emanating domestically.  Only the active measure of arming our men and women, or, at the very least, allowing them to arm themselves will provide the requisite security to reduce the threat significantly that all of us who serve in uniform face every day at home.

To the officers and non-commissioned officers, the right to arm themselves against threats should be unquestioned.  If incapable of carrying a side arm safely, they have no business being leaders in the profession of arms.  To the junior enlisted, if qualified on the type of arm they wish to carry, they should, by definition, be qualified to do so at all times.  If the level of training is insufficient, then that is the fault of the service that failed to qualify them properly.  This does not mean they must be issued the weapon, though that would be preferable in some cases.  Personally owned weapons should be sufficient.

In the past 20 years this country has undergone an experiment on the costs and benefits of letting Americans arm themselves discreetly.  The concealed carry weapon (CCW) permit is becoming ubiquitous in our country.  In some states, ranging from Maine to Arizona to Alaska, no permit is required at all.  The predicted bloodshed that many said would result failed utterly to materialize.  In fact, violent crime levels of all kind have dropped during this period.  Whether this drop is from causation or correlation is unknown.  What is known is that Americans have become safer at the same time more and more Americans have started carrying weapons in their own defense.  The idea that trained professionals would present a higher risk than the general population they defend fails the common sense test.

Despite the obvious nature of this solution, it will be predictably attacked by the senior leaders in the military.  This failure to trust the subordinates they trained highlights a different problem to be addressed at a different time.  But senior leaders who use their command authority to disarm the men and women they are responsible for must be held accountable the next time our men in uniform are slaughtered; unarmed and defenseless.

In what will become an iconic photo in the gun rights community, the bullet holes surrounding the gun-free-zone sign at the recruiting station in Tennessee perfectly illustrates the foolishness of such zones.  While the debate has often centered on schools, where the mix of children and firearms adds an understandably emotional concern, the idea that men and women who have trained in the profession of arms must be treated like children is indefensible.  In the predictable absence of a call from our military leadership, it will be incumbent upon the civilians who thankfully wield ultimate power over the military to allow us the right to protect our families, ourselves, and our fellow Americans from the threats we tragically face at home.

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11 comments

  1. Bob 23 July, 2015 at 12:04 Reply

    Nice to see a Field Grade Officer who cares more about the lives of American Troops than he does about making rank. I wish our sons and daughters had more people like you to lead them LTC Darling.

  2. SGT Kleemann 23 July, 2015 at 18:06 Reply

    Completely agree. At the very minimum I just don’t understand why leaders in a command position (Commander, First Sergeant, Platoon Leaders and Platoon Sergeants and so on) are not armed with a simple M9. That right there would at least be a fair compromise. It’s completly idiotic that we’ve got a specific level of training and responsibility, the weapons are right there locked at our duty location, and yet the most protection I can afford to my joes is a 911 call…..

  3. Arbuthnaught 23 July, 2015 at 18:29 Reply

    I think the brass is unable to shift gears conceptually. The brass has had it beaten into their heads that the danger of accidents is greater than the danger of attack in a stateside setting. While there is a danger that 18, 19, 20 year old troops may “shoot at shadows,” there is no reason during war that soldiers could not be trained to operate armed in a self defense capacity. There should be clear rules of engagement, and senior supervision. Not letting troops defend themselves is nonsense on stilts. I completely agree with the comment above. Sergeants and officers should be allowed to carry side arms.

  4. PAtFilbert 23 July, 2015 at 19:20 Reply

    While I agree there is a problem your article is remarkable one-sided and missing details readily available related to who can own/carry weapons on or off post/base and the completely incorrect freedom of speech item.

    First, I in no way gave up my freedom of speech and it is in no way “gone” when I voluntarily joined the Army. I can speak my mind, relate my political leanings and even campaign for a political candidate as long as I follow regulations (which basically boils down to not wearing my uniform at a political rally).

    But lets look at the larger issue here. First, two of the recruiters were armed., they returned fire into the parking lot and its a good thing there were no civilians killed due to that fire. Ultimately, return fire from two individuals did not deter the attacker. Second, in no way are our troops “disarmed” or prevented from owning personal weapons. If you live on post/base in housing you can secure your privately owned weapons there or in the arms room. If you re in the barracks, they go into the arms room and if you live on the economy they get secured there (says the former arms room officer). Search and seizure only applies to the barracks and you, as a senior field grade, know why. It does not actually get used related to post/base housing but does apply to vehicles.

    Next, the title of your article is purely political. As I’ve noted, troops are not disarmed. AS for the insider threat, you dismiss as ‘casual” what the military has done to work countering this threat; or have you been not attending require insider threat training? I for one do not want armed office workers attempting to return fire at an insider because cubicle walls don’t stop bullets. And since there is no training on ranges for armed office workers to react to an insider how would that occur?

    And where would the ammunition be stored? How to ensure someone doesn’t steal a weapon and use it for an insider attack? None of this is a “common sense test failure.” What is a failure is bored-brush tenets thrown out in defense of “patriotism” and “bucking the system” with no planning, assessment, or risk analysis. It reads well and stirs emotions. And when on and off base/post incidents occur like what occurred in Iraq and Afghanistan where armed troops killed their NCOs, Officers, doctors, and the local population we’ll have similar “how could this happen?” and “disarm the troops” articles lamenting how we ever got to the point of arming them.

    ROE only works when those under it actually follow it.

  5. Bad_Syntax 23 July, 2015 at 20:17 Reply

    Uhhhhh, no.

    I was in the infantry for 7 years. Active duty, got out as an NCO in 2005 (so a few years back).

    You can put soldiers in a war zone and give them a rifle, sure.

    But not in the environment where they get drunk in 3 nights (if not 7) a week.

    I read yesterday that one of the soldiers shot had a Glock on him and some fire was returned. If a nutjob with a rifle wants to kill people, there isn’t a whole lot of anything you can do (especially not issuing MORE guns) that is going to stop that. If every soldier that died had an M4, there still would have been a couple dead before they could have reacted.

    Instead, lets find the nutjobs and stop it there. Lets stop the guns from getting in those hands before we arm more in the hopes they can defend themselves.

    Gotta stop the infection at the source.

    • Martin Metz 24 July, 2015 at 09:06 Reply

      It’s not just “nut jobs” anymore. We have actual terrorists to deal with especially with Armories, Recruiting Offices, and Reserve Centers located right in local communities where folks can come off the street to do dastardly deeds. There needs to be something more effective than civilians volunteering to stand watch outside on the curb.

    • LuckyJarms 5 August, 2015 at 20:22 Reply

      Bad_Syntax:

      Your idea idea of disarming everyone (minus police) and locking up the Bad Guys has already been implemented in Detroit, Chicago, Washington DC, Baltimore, Oakland, Trenton, etc. How’s that worked out so far?

  6. strategicservice 24 July, 2015 at 05:42 Reply

    “If every soldier that died had an M4, there still would have been a couple dead before they could have reacted.”

    You don’t know that, and even if that were true, if every soldier that died had an M4, the attack might not have happened at all.

  7. Martin Metz 24 July, 2015 at 08:20 Reply

    There is some good discussion here on this. I think there is room to re-think the restrictive DoD Directive for all the Services. Military folks are still prone to make mistakes with their weapons – there were a surprising number of negligent discharges at the discharge barrels before entering camps during the year I spent in Kuwait during Operation Iraqi Freedom. Bang = negligent discharge and disciplinary action. Despite the training, experience, and emphasis, we still encountered way too many folks doing this. Most military are schooled in the use of their weapons for combat, not domestic situations. With the current level of terrorism manifesting, the policy needs to be loosened.

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