The shootings last week that killed five service members has reinvigorated the debate about whether troops should be able to carry personal firearms for protection on base, with supporters saying arming service members could prevent attacks like the one in Chattanooga, Tennessee.
As federal lawmakers debate a policy that makes reserve training centers like the one in Chattanooga gun-free zones, governors are ramping up military protection efforts in their respective states. At least six have signed orders to allow National Guard troops to carry firearms at bases.
Muhammad Youssef Abdulazeez fired 25 to 30 shots at a military recruiting center Thursday morning in Chattanooga. Authorities chased the Kuwait-born gunman to a Navy support center about seven miles away, where he killed four Marines and mortally injured a sailor before local police killed him.
In the wake of the shootings, some officials, including lawmakers on Capitol Hill, have said arming service members could have prevented these attacks as well as others such as the ones at Fort Hood in 2009 and the Washington Navy Yard in 2014.
“Just because a member of our armed forces is not deployed to an active war zone does not mean they are safe,” said Sen. Jerry Moran, Kansas Republican. “If the members of our armed forces at the Chattanooga military recruitment centers had been allowed to exercise their Second Amendment rights, the outcome of the attacks could have been very different.”
The FBI has arrested more than 10 U.S. citizens in the past two months on charges of plotting various attacks on the homeland on behalf of the Islamic State terrorist group, and the Department of Homeland Security issued a bulletin putting local law enforcement agencies across the country on heightened alert for attempted attacks during Fourth of July festivities.
Most U.S. recruits who have heeded the siren calls of the Islamic State have planned to kill soldiers at military facilities and attempted to assail law enforcement officers, said federal officials tracking the cases. These calls often are proliferated through social media messages, an online magazine and other Internet-based propaganda.
Sen. John McCain, Arizona Republican, and Rep. Mac Thornberry, Texas Republican, are leaders of negotiations on this year’s defense policy bill. They said they plan to include provisions for troops to carry weapons on base for their own protection.
Sen. James M. Inhofe, Oklahoma Republican, has asked the Senate Armed Services Committee to hold a hearing on what the Defense Department is doing to increase security in the wake of the Chattanooga attack. He said the rampage raised “great concerns” about the safety of military personnel at home.
Adm. Bill Gortney, the head of U.S. Northern Command, ordered an increase in security at reserve centers, recruitment centers and Reserve Officers’ Training Corps units across the country, said Army Maj. Beth Smith, a NORAD spokeswoman.
Maj. Smith declined to discuss specifics of the heightened security, citing operational concerns. The Wall Street Journal reported that units were being told to close their blinds but were not allowed to arm themselves for personal defense.
“Some of the things we do are random security measures, increased vigilance and asking people if they see anything to let people know,” Maj. Smith said.
Several governors took matters into their own hands and issued executive orders over the weekend to arm their states’ National Guard units, over which they maintain routine control and set most policies.
Governors in Louisiana, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Texas, Florida and Indiana signed orders that would allow full-time military personnel in their states’ National Guard units to carry firearms for personal protection.
South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley, a Republican, said Monday that she authorized the state’s adjutant general to review security at National Guard installations and recruitment centers.
In a statement to The Associated Press, Ms. Haley said she fully expects the review to result in the arming of some guardsmen.
U.S. military officials have said security at recruitment centers should be reviewed but have not called for recruiters to be armed.
“I want to join in those who are calling for greater security at our recruiting stations and military installations. We’ve had numerous instances of attacks,” said Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson. “Clearly they are a target, and for us to have unarmed military personnel makes no sense.”
In addition to ordering the arming of National Guardsmen in Florida, Gov. Rick Scott, a Republican, also ordered all National Guard personnel at six storefront recruiting centers to relocate to the nearest armory until improvements to security are made, including the installation of video surveillance and bulletproof glass. He also asked the state’s adjutant general to arrange for regular security checks of the armories.
The Defense Department has objected to arming all troops, saying the multiple barriers include the high cost of training and certification requirements.
Not all reports indicate that soldiers carrying firearms would prevent these sorts of attacks.
The Washington Post reported that one of the Marines may have used his personal pistol to fire shots at Mr. Abdulazeez before he was killed. According to the report, the FBI recovered a pistol near one of the dead Marines and was trying to determine whether it was used in the gunfight.
On Friday, just one day after the shooting, a Navy recruiter in Gainesville, Georgia, brought his personal handgun to work and accidentally shot himself in the upper leg, Business Insider reported. The military has long said that it wishes to avoid these types of misfires and that is why servicemen shouldn’t be armed at all times.
Defense Secretary Ashton Carter approved an increase to force protection measures on Friday and ordered a review of steps that can be taken to increase security at military installations. He asked for results of that review by the end of this week.
Robert Taylor, founder of Security Services International Associates, said there is no reason military installations shouldn’t have at least the same level of security as every federal building in Washington.
“When was the last time you went into a government facility in D.C. without being checked through a metal detector?” Mr. Taylor said. “Why shouldn’t our military facilities have exactly the same protection?”