In the wake of the Chattanooga, Tennessee shooting that kiled 4 Marines and one sailor, there has been a call by many people to arm recruiters and other military personnel who could potentially find themselves in a similar situation. Other individuals, some of which are members of militia groups, have taken it upon themselves to stand in front of recruiting centers armed with handguns or even assault rifles tricked-out with all of the accessories. These individuals have stated that they are there to protect the recruiters because they claim the government won’t allow military personnel to be armed, a 1992 Defense Department directive that Jeb Bush recently tried to blame on Bill Clinton.
The military has had a long-standing rule against soldiers walking around with weapons, except for when they were in combat zones. If you’ve ever been on a military base (I’ve been on quite a few Navy bases) one of the things you will notice is that the only people carrying weapons are military police officers and armed private security guards who you’ll usually find checking in traffic at the gates. According to a 2011 DoD directive, arming personnel other than those who work in a security or law enforcement capacity should be limited to instances where there is a direct threat to an installation, property or lives.
Arming DoD personnel with firearms shall be limited and controlled. Qualified personnel shall be armed when required for assigned duties and there is reasonable expectation that DoD installations, property, or personnel lives or DoD assets will be jeopardized if personnel are not armed. Evaluation of the necessity to arm DoD personnel shall be made with the consideration of the possible consequences of accidental or indiscriminate use of those arms. However, the overriding factors in determining whether or not to arm are the mission and threat. Arming DoD personnel (i.e., administrative, assessment, or inspection, not regularly engaged in or directly supervising security or law enforcement activities) shall be limited to missions or threats and the immediate need to protect DoD assets or persons’ lives. DoD Components have the discretion to keep designated staff personnel qualified and available or on call to perform duties. (Source)
While military personnel are all taught the basics of handling weapons, many only fire them for an annual qualification, especially when it comes to members of the military who work in administrative functions. Unlike the Marine Corps or Army, recruits don’t use the M-16 rifle at all during basic training, but they are trained on the use of the M-9 pistol as well as a shotgun. The general public often has the expectation that because someone was in the military, they must be experts in the use of firearms and combat, which often isn’t true. Allowing recruiters to be armed is also prevented by military regulations, as well as the Posse Comitatus Act which went into law at the end of the post-Civil War Reconstruction era.
The ban is largely due to legal issues, such as the Posse Comitatus Act of 1878, which prohibits the federal government from using the military for domestic law enforcement. U.S. forces don’t routinely carry guns when they are not in combat or on military bases. And Pentagon officials are sensitive to any appearance of armed troops within the United States. (Source)
However, regardless of whether the military will allow recruiters to carry weapons, or lawmakers pass legislation to make it happen, the fact remains that all of the fatalities occurred at a Navy support center, not the recruiting center.
Most military personnel generally do not carry weapons in the performance of their daily duties unless they’re in a combat zone, and because they are forbidden from acting in a law enforcement capacity on U.S. soil per the Posse Comitatus Act as mentioned before.
While the Act is seen as an essential element of the American civil liberties framework, it originally represented a profound betrayal of African-American Southerners by the federal government. In the Reconstruction years following the American Civil War, U.S. troops were stationed in the South to protect recently-freed black slaves, allowing them to vote and function as free people. But when Republicans agreed to end Reconstruction in exchange for electoral votes during the controversial 1876 presidential election, they sold out black Southerners, who were condemned to a near-century of Jim Crow laws with almost no federal protection. The Posse Comitatus Act, which withdrew U.S. troops from Southern soil, was a central part of this betrayal. (Source)
You read that right, part of the reason why the military is not armed when dealing with the general public is because the South demanded the withdrawal of federal troops after the Civil War so they could impose white control once again over freed slaves. As one example, in New Orleans in 1874, federal troops had to be called in to put down an insurrection against the state government. The Battle of Liberty Place was an attempt by members of the white supremacy group the White League to install their own government, something they were able to do a few years later once the Posse Comitatus Act was passed and the United States military couldn’t be used to protect black Americans’ right to vote.
I think it would be safe to guess that many of the people who want the military to be armed have never heard of the Posse Comitatus Act. If there were armed soldiers or Marines walking around, they’d be screaming about a “police state” or an invasion like the folks who are currently freaking out over the Jade Helm military exercises in the Southwest. Arming military recruiters isn’t going to stop someone from doing a drive-by shooting in a strip mall, nor will having armed civilians and members of militia groups stand outside a recruiter’s office, a practice the military has instructed them to treat as a security risk.
More guns in the hands of more people does not automatically make us safer. A troubled individual like the Chattanooga shooter should never have been able to purchase an assault rifle and kill 5 service members, but thanks to the NRA, he did.
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