Fort Hood shooting provokes debate over ban on guns on bases

04/03/2014 3:58 PM

04/04/2014 3:36 AM

The haunting scene of another mass shooting at Fort Hood is igniting a debate among lawmakers, especially from Texas, about the Pentagon’s rules against personnel carrying guns on military bases.

Wednesday’s shooting marks 28 victims killed in three mass shootings at military installations over the last five years.

The 1993 Pentagon regulation was designed to ensure safety by imposing “limit and control” of firearms on military and civilian workers at bases.

Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Texas, chairman of the House Committee on Homeland Security, warned Thursday that military bases are now, in effect, “soft targets” that make those working and living at Department of Defense facilities vulnerable without the ability to return fire.

“In the state of Texas you can get a concealed handgun license and walk into the state capitol,” McCaul said in a televised interview. “And yet on our military bases we’re not allowing our trained combat active-duty officers to carry weapons on base. I guarantee if they had had that ability they could have stopped this guy almost immediately.”

Asked Thursday about the policy, Fort Hood’s commander, Lt. Gen. Mark Milley, told reporters, “At this time, there is no change in DOD policy that I’m aware of in terms of carrying weapons on military installations.”

But Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, who was standing next to Milley at the briefing, reflected a growing sentiment among lawmakers to rethink the regulation.

“Well, Gen. Milley’s job is to carry out the policy of the Department of Defense now,” Cornyn said. “But I’m confident that there will be a thorough review of that policy and the military will make the best judgment on what needs to happen in order to protect people on base.”

Rep. Roger Williams, R-Texas, one of two House members who represent the Fort Hood area, wants the policy re-examined.

“It’s time to have a dialogue,” Williams said in an interview. “We’ve got concealed gun permits on the street. None of us wants this to happen again on any base.”

The issue crosses party lines. Even a staunch Democrat like Rep. Marc Veasey, D-Texas, was unwilling to support the existing rule.

“The decision of whether military personnel can carry firearms on military bases should be left to army base commanders, and I have confidence that they will find a reasonable solution,” the Fort Worth lawmaker said.

In an interview, Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Texas, called for “zero tolerance” for incidents like the Fort Hood shootings. She favors greater security measures but worried that a lot of gun-carrying people on base could have provoked a shooting gallery.

“I don’t know if it would have been worse if everyone had a right to carry,” Jackson Lee said.

There is already a bill in the House of Representatives to repeal the military’s no-firearms regulation, introduced by pro-gun Texas Republican Steve Stockman after the Washington Navy Yard shootings last September that left 12 victims and the shooter dead.

“This is the third mass shooting on a military base in five years, and it’s because our trained soldiers aren’t allowed to carry defensive weapons,” said Stockman. “Only the most out-of-touch radical would try to disarm soldiers.”

But Pentagon spokesman Col. Steven H. Warren told McClatchy in an email that the Defense Department “does not support arming all personnel. We hold this position for many reasons. Some of the top reasons are safety concerns, the prohibitive costs of use-of-force and weapons training, qualification costs, and compliance with various weapons screening laws.”

Correction: This story originally misspelled the name of Rep. Mark Veasey.

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