Since the recent active-shooter incident at Fort Hood, Texas, in which Ivan Lopez reportedly killed three and wounded 16, nearly all media outlets have focused on the presence of a weapon as the lead story.
As a combat veteran, former law enforcement officer and judge advocate who has used deadly force in defense of self and others, I find it terribly disturbing that instead of arming select noncommissioned officers and officers to better prevent this type of attack, Army leaders at Fort Hood and elsewhere are attempting the disarm those on the side of angels.
Nationwide, it takes about 14 minutes for law enforcement to respond to an active-shooter incident. Most of these incidents are over — either by the assailant’s suicide, death or surrender — in half that time. The surest and best way to stop an active shooter is to kill him.
How is it that our warriors, who typically carry loaded M4 carbines and pistols in Afghanistan, are suddenly not trusted to respond in defense of self and others domestically? The answers are threefold:
First, the average senior officer in the military simply does not trust his subordinates. Machiavelli in his “Discourses on Livy” states, “You have to have confidence in your commanders and must give them authority. If they make a mistake out of malice, you punish them, and if they make a mistake out of ignorance, you actually reward them because you want people to continue to have flexibility and creativity.”
After more than 12 years of war, this concept is still foreign to the average senior military leader. These colonels are too busy scrambling to make general officer and want nothing to go wrong on their watch. They find no incongruity in killing 25 noncombatants in a drone strike, yet crucify subordinates at the tip of the spear who, under situations that are tense, uncertain and rapidly evolving, inadvertently kill the “wrong” person in the clear vision of 20/20 hindsight.
Second, the average senior military leader is also typically not a “gun guy.” He may have directed troop movements from a tactical operation center, but most have never personally experienced the stress of a deadly-force encounter or close-in killing. That is why they impose ill-founded rules by which they attempt to control a dynamic situation with simple prescriptions. The result can be seen in ridiculously complex and restrictive rules of engagement.
These “leaders” also fail to differentiate between reasonable mistakes in battle and legitimate war crimes. Prosecuting war crimes is essential, but underwriting mistakes takes a degree of loyalty and moral courage many senior officers lack. This has ramifications not only for adequate self-defense, but also for unit cohesion, organizational culture, trust, morale, resiliency and the prevention of post-traumatic stress disorder.
Third, too many legal advisers advise commanders with a view toward prophylactically covering their hindquarters rather than providing tactically sound guidance. Moreover, many of these advisers are not legally or tactically competent to provide guidance on the very subject upon which they deign to advise: the ethical, legal and tactical dynamics of deadly-force encounters.
The FBI learned this lesson the hard way during the deadly Miami shootout in which two special agents were killed and five others were grievously wounded. After that, the bureau learned to provide competent legal and tactical training to their agents. The Army would do well to learn from the bureau in this regard.
Also, legal red herrings — such as fears over the Posse Comitatus Act and the military’s authority to enforce domestic laws — are misplaced. The Army always retains the authority to defend its forces and installations. This is a God-given, inherent right that is recognized in its Standing Rules of Engagement.
A military installation should be the last place in the world that an active shooter should feel unfettered in committing such a cowardly act of violence. There are literally tens of thousands of tactically proficient warriors on Fort Hood. Any one of them, but especially those vetted by command as especially mature and capable, could easily be armed and given powers of arrest.
If 21-year-olds are capable of serving as law enforcement officers in the civilian community, why is the military ignoring the obvious here? Part of the reason might be simple politics. It would be akin to admitting that the likes of John Lott, author of “More Guns, Less Crime,” are correct. Since that would not fit the progressive view of the world, senior leaders would rather ignore a viable ability for subordinates to defend themselves and innocent others.
Despite the fact that rifles, including those scary-looking “assault rifles,” kill fewer than 300 persons a year nationwide, the media and leaders always look to ban them. More than 20 times that number — and an even proportionately higher number of young military members — are killed on motorcycles every year. Yet no one clamors to ban high-performance motorcycles, nor should they.
The responsibility for operating them safely resides with the individual operator, not the state. The same holds true for firearms. The main difference is that motorcycles can’t be used in self-defense, and neither are they protected by the Bill of Rights.
It should sicken most Americans to realize that its warrior class is being told to “shelter in place” when confronted by an active-shooter incident. Senior leaders should arm our warriors and let them defend themselves against all enemies, foreign and domestic. To do otherwise is a dereliction of duty of the highest order.
David G. Bolgiano is a retired U.S. Air Force lieutenant colonel and a former faculty member of the Department of National Security and Strategy and the U.S. Army War College.