How could an active duty military base become a “soft target” to an active shooter? This past week the Pensacola Naval Air Station became a killing field to a Saudi pilot training at the facility. We have learned that the shooter had a hatred for the United States and our close ally Israel. With a single handgun he was able to kill three active duty members and wound another eight, including two Sheriff’s deputies. It is inconceivable to think that members of the military who are trained in the use of firearms are not allowed to carry weapons on an active duty military installation. We lost three of our own before the shooter could be neutralized, but this was not the first or the worst shooting to take place on an active duty facility. On November 5, 2009 Army Major Nidal Hasan opened fire in the Ft. Hood deployment center killing 13 and wounding another 42 before being subdued. In July 2015 a Chattanooga, Tennessee recruiting station was attacked and 4 unarmed Marines and a Sailor were killed. On Novevber 18, 2016 The Department of Defense (DoD) issued a department policy – DoD Directive 5210.56: Arming and the Use of Force. It permits active duty members to carry privately-owned firearms (concealed or open carry) with certain restrictions. The active duty member must be 21 years of age or older and possess a valid handgun permit in the state or territory in which the military installation is located. They can not carry a personal firearm and be under the influence of alcohol or drugs. Unfortunately the directive is at the discretion of the base commanding officer. In too many instances, commanders have chosen not to allow members to carry their personal firearms while on base. Apparently the lack of enforcement of this directive is over liability concerns. There is certainly a potential for injury or harm to person or property from the negligent use of a private firearm. The DoD makes it clear that any such damages may not fall within the scope of the member’s federal employment.
Following the recent incident in Pensacola, pilot instructors asked base officials for permission to arm themselves in the event of any future such incidents. That request was turned down, despite the fact that the casualty count could have been much higher had the shooter been in possession of a more powerful weapon. Active duty members who are deployed to Iraq, Afghanistan and many other overseas areas are required to be armed at all times. Yet when these same individuals return to the states, they are forced to “disarm” themselves, becoming a sitting duck for an armed assailant. There are many states that have liberal “concealed carry” statutes and yet have had no significant injuries from the negligent use of private firearms. Commanders are being overly cautious and subjecting their soldiers and sailors to unnecessary risks. Military members are highly-trained in the use of firearms. We should allow them to protect themselves and others by having a weapon at the ready in an emergency.