Why Pentagon is cool to Cruz bid to let troops carry personal firearms on base

Sen. Ted Cruz  and others argue that personal firearms on base could help counter mass shootings on US military bases. But senior military leaders are wary of the link between personal guns and suicide.

Mark Humphrey/AP/File
Sen. Ted Cruz (R) of Texas speaks at the National Rifle Association convention on April 10, 2015, in Nashville, Tenn.

Sen. Ted Cruz (R) of Texas believes that troops should be able to carry their personal firearms with them on base – a point of view that puts him at odds with a number of top US military officials, including former commanders in America’s wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

This doesn’t bother him, he says. “The military brass opposes this,” he told Fox News Tuesday. “But I’m a big believer in defending the Second Amendment rights of everyone, including our soldiers.”

Likewise, military brass has at times spoken out against the National Rifle Association, for example, when the organization launched a bid to keep commanders from talking to soldiers about the safety of keeping personal firearms in their homes.

Following Senator Cruz’s remarks, the Army on Tuesday pointed to remarks that Gen. Raymond Odierno, Army chief of staff, made during a Senate hearing last April, as a fair reflection of their current views on that matter.

Asked about whether there is a need to change policy established by the George W. Bush administration in 1992, which prevents most troops from bringing personal firearms on base, General Odierno, who previously served as commander of US forces in Iraq, argued that military bases already provide considerable security for their soldiers.

“I believe that we have our military police and others that are armed, and I believe that’s appropriate,” he told Sen. Lindsey Graham (R) of South Carolina during a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing. “That allows us the level of protection necessary.”

Cruz and others argue that allowing troops to carry their personal firearms on base could prevent – or at least cut short – the sorts of mass shootings that occurred at Fort Hood, Texas, in 2009 and 2014 and at the US Navy Yard in Washington, D.C., in 2013. 

Military commanders have other concerns about troops and their personal firearms, however. 

Back in 2011, the National Rifle Association took issue with base commanders in Fort Riley, Kan., who had invited soldiers living off-post to consider locking their personal firearms on base.

The NRA promptly backed a law, introduced by Sen. James Inhofe (R) of Oklahoma, to prohibit commanders from asking those particular soldiers whether they owned a personal firearm.

Congress ultimately dropped the legislation, which had been attached as a rider to a defense bill, under pressure from senior military leaders, who pointed out that half of all troops who commit suicide use a firearm.

The Second Amendment debate surfaced again this week when Cruz told a New Hampshire audience Sunday that he was pressing Senate Armed Services Committee chairman John McCain (R) of Arizona to hold a hearing to change the law to allow troops to carry personal weapons on base.

This, in turn, prompted a rebuke from Senator McCain, who said it was the first he had heard of the matter. 

“I was fascinated,” he said. “I haven’t heard a thing about it from him. Nor has my staff heard from his staff. Where did that come from?”

Cruz backed off his assertion Tuesday, saying that he had “misspoken,” though he added that he would still like to have a hearing. 

That said, he added that the committee would also be amenable to “listen[ing] to the military’s arguments.” 

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