After Chattanooga shooting, Congress weighs arming troops on bases

The Armed Services Committees are working to allow commanders to carry personal firearms through the National Defense Authorization Act.

Carolyn Kaster/AP
Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., speaks during the Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, on June 7, 2015.

The Armed Services Committees are working together to “do more to protect our troops” following a deadly shooting on July 16 in Tennessee, according to a statement released Friday.

A recent shooting in Chattanooga, Tenn., which claimed the lives of four Marines at military recruiting stations, has rekindled debate over rules prohibiting members of the military from carrying concealed weapons on military bases.

The National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which funds the Department of Defense (DoD), for the upcoming fiscal year passed the House on May 15 by a margin of 269 to 151, and the Senate on June 18 by a vote of 71 to 25, but the bills passed were not identical. The House bill included an amendment which would allow for members of the armed forces to carry weapons on military bases.

The amendment, was proposed by Rep. John Carter, (R) of Texas, in May. Representative Carter represents Texas's 31st district, which includes Fort Hood, the site of deadly shootings in in 2009 and 2014.

The US military has limited gun-carry on bases at least since the Vietnam War, reported The Christian Science Monitor following the 2014 Fort Hood shooting, although the procedures weren’t formalized until 1992.

The legislation passed in 1992 indicated that the need to carry a firearm would be weighed against “the possible consequences of accidental or indiscriminate use of firearms.” The policy, updated in 2011, indicates a similar stance stating, “Arming DoD personnel with firearms shall be limited and controlled,” and arming personnel would occur only where there is, “reasonable expectation that DoD installations, property, or personnel lives or DoD assets will be jeopardized if personnel are not armed.”

The concealed-weapon amendment, if included in the final version of the bill, would allow the commander of a “military installation” to authorize a member of the Armed Forces to “carry a concealed personal firearm” if it is deemed “necessary as a personal- or force-protection measure.” The final language of the bill is still under discussion.

Rep. Mac Thornbury, (R) of Texas, and Sen. John McCain, (R) of Arizona, released a joint statement Friday saying, “Long before the Chattanooga attack, we had been working to clarify a post commander’s authority to allow carrying of personal firearms.” The chairmen of the House and Senate Armed Services Committees added, “This year’s National Defense Authorization Act will reflect that work.”

Following the 2014 shooting at Fort Hood, calls were made for all military personnel to be armed at their bases. The Pentagon, however, didn’t support allowing concealed weapons on base saying, “The Department took a close look at this after the 2009 shooting at Fort Hood and again after the Navy [Yard] shooting, and our position is we do not support arming all personnel on post, camps, stations.” The Pentagon cited safety, cost of training, and local requirements among their reasons for not supporting concealed weapons on military bases.

In 2014, Pentagon spokesman Steve Warren added, “There are a lot of barriers to this idea, and the Department's position – and we've spelled this out before — is that we do not support it.”

The Pentagon has yet to formally announce any changes to this position. 

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