Defense authorization bill calls for easing rules for guns on bases
WASHINGTON — An annual defense policy bill unveiled by Congress this week would give commanders more leeway to allow troops to carry personal firearms for protection on military bases following deadly shootings in Tennessee and elsewhere.
The Defense Department would be required to update its policy by the end of the year to give local commanders the authority other whether servicemembers can arm themselves at bases, reserve and recruiting centers, and other defense facilities, according to the proposed National Defense Authorization Act.
The legislation was spurred on by the July shooting attack by Mohammad Youssef Abdulazeez that killed four Marines and a sailor. It would loosen restrictions on carrying weapons that the military has kept since at least 1992.
“As you know, currently it is a one-size-fits-all, dictated from the Pentagon sort of policy,” said Rep. Mac Thornberry, R-Texas, chairman of the House Armed Services Committee and an author of the bill. “We say that doesn’t make any sense and require that there be a policy that the commanders at various installations use for either their government-issued weapons or their personal weapons consistent with the laws of the state where they may be.”
The defense bill must still pass Congress and be signed by the president – an uncertainty due to widespread Democrat opposition and a White House veto threat Wednesday over an unrelated funding measure. A vote in the House is possible Thursday.
Gun rights advocates have argued for more guns on bases since Army Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan killed 13 people and wounded more than 30 in a shooting spree at Fort Hood, Texas, in 2009.
The Pentagon repeatedly has rejected the idea of guns for personal protection. It follows what it calls a “limited and controlled” arming of personnel that allows only security and law enforcement to carry loaded guns on military facilities outside of war zones.
Defense Secretary Ash Carter told the DOD in July that commanders are already given some flexibility to arm their troops. The department’s policy allows designated personnel – outside of law enforcement and security – to be trained and on call to protect assets and lives.
“Additionally, the policy allows for the arming of qualified DOD personnel (not regularly engaged in law enforcement duties) based on the threat and the immediate need to protect assets and lives,” Carter wrote in a memo.