In the wake of last week’s tragic shooting in Chattanooga that killed five members of the U.S. military, politicians and the gun lobby began pushing for the immediate arming of military personnel in recruiting stations as well as legislation requiring military leaders to allow the carrying of loaded weapons on military installations.
“It’s outrageous that members of our armed services have lost their lives because the government has forced them to be disarmed in the workplace,” said Chris Cox, head of the NRA’s legislative and political operation.
Certainly, that’s one way to look at it. Another would be to question a system in which a young man suffering from depression and with a history of drug and alcohol abuse could obtain a semi-auto AK-47 with a 30-round magazine and a Saiga-12 semi-auto shotgun of the type pictured at right, both of which Mohammod Abdulazeez carried in his attack.
A few other points to consider:
— The day after the Chattanooga attack, a Navy recruiter in Gainesville, Ga., brought his personal .45 pistol to his recruiting office — in apparent violation of military policy — and proceeded to shoot himself in the leg while showing off the weapon to a potential recruit. As that incident suggests, non-combat military personnel are simply not as well-trained and proficient in the use of weapons as mythology would suggest.
— I’m not sure how effective personal weapons would be in fending off the type of attack perpetrated in Chattanooga, in which a heavily armed gunman launched a surprise assault that began with him driving his car through a security gate. In fact, it turns out that one of the Marines killed in the Chattanooga attack may have been armed with a Glock handgun — again in violation of policy — although what role if any that gun played in the attack is still unknown.
— The military bans private weapons in the workplace for the same reasons that almost every private employer in the country bans weapons: The statistics tell them that the risks of workplace violence and accidental shootings far outweigh any benefits. Military leaders say they do not want or need a situation in which soldiers and others on base can carry loaded weapons and the military has no legal means of controlling it. They fear that tragedies such as the Fort Hood shooting, the Camp Liberty shooting and a 2013 case in which an armed National Guard recruiter went berzerk might become more numerous if weapons become ubiquitous on military property.
— No one was killed in the first facility attacked by Abdulazeez, despite the fact that he fired more than 50 rounds, because the recruiting office was protected by bulletproof glass. In contrast, the only apparent security measure at the second facility, where he killed five people, was a chain-link fence that he drove through in his car. So we have some idea of what works, and what does not.
In the wake of the Chattanooga attacks, Pentagon officials have promised to conduct a full-scale, professional assessment of recruiting-station security needs, and if that assessment produces a recommendation that includes arming recruiters in some fashion, we can debate it at that time. But if that change comes, it ought to be dictated by military leadership looking out for the safety of the men and women under their command, not by congressmen and presidential candidates with no expertise who are pandering to popular sentiment and powerful lobby groups pushing an agenda.