Congress to Decide if Military Personnel Can Carry Guns on Base

Washington Navy Yard Area Recovers Day After 13 Dead In Shooting
WASHINGTON, DC - SEPTEMBER 17: A police officer stands guard at the front gate of the Washington Naval Yard September 17, 2013 in Washington, DC. Yesterday a defense contractor named Aaron Alexis allegedly killed at least 13 people during a shooting rampage at the Navy Yard before being killed by police. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)Mark Wilson

Congress will soon decide whether or not military personnel can carry concealed weapons on military bases in the wake of the shooting in Chattanooga, Tennessee that claimed the lives of four Marines at a military recruiting station.

The amendment that would allow them to do so is part of the National Defense Authorization Act for 2016, which funds the Department of Defense for the upcoming fiscal year. The bill passed the House on May 15 and the Senate June 18, but the bills were not identical. The House bill included the amendment allowing for members of the armed forced to carry weapons on military bases.

If included in the final version of the bill, the amendment would allow the commander of a "military installation" to authorize a member of the Armed Forces to "carry a concealed personal firearm" if it is deemed "necessary as a personal- or force-protection measure," according to the story.

The final language of the bill is still under discussion.

The U.S. military has allowed only limited carrying of firearms on bases since the Vietnam War, the story said, although procedures weren't formalized until 1992. Those procedures indicated the need to carry a firearm would be weighed against "the possible consequences of accidental or indiscriminate use of firearms." The policy was updated in 2011 to read "arming DoD personnel with firearms shall be limited and controlled," and arming personnel would occur only where there is "reasonable expectation that DoD installations, property, or personnel lives or DoD assets will be jeopardized if personnel are not armed."

"Long before the Chattanooga attack, we had been working to clarify a post commander's authority to allow carrying of personal firearms," said a joint statement released by Rep. Mac Thornberry of Texas (R) and Sen. John McCain of Arizona (R) who are heading negotiations over the bill, which they say may be finalized by the end of the month. "This year's National Defense Authorization Act will reflect that work. Together, we will direct the Pentagon to end the disconnect between the threats our warfighters and their families face and the tools they have to defend themselves."

Some are on the side of the Pentagon's previous decisions. Gen. Ray Odierno, Army Chief of Staff, warned Stars and Stripes about "over-arming" personnel, saying security at recruiting centers will be reviewed but that it was too early to say whether the service will boost protection.

After the 2009 shooting at Fort Hood, Texas, the Pentagon decided not to allow concealed weapons on base, saying "The Department took a close look at this…and our position is we do not support arming all personnel on post, camps, stations." The Pentagon cited safety, cost of training and local requirements as prohibitive reasons for not supporting the carrying of weapons on base.

Any final NDAA issued by the McCain and Thornberry conference committee must be approved by the full House and Senate but cannot be amended, according to congressional staff.

Many states that are home to military bases allow citizens to carry firearms outside the fence line, raising concerns that troops could be left defenseless.