In his first policy response to the killings of five American troops at a Tennessee reserve center, Defense Secretary Ashton Carter released a memo Thursday that will let more service members carry guns stateside while on base or at more vulnerable satellite offices.
A two-page memo tells service secretaries to review rules and revise as needed to meet security threats. It could mean that more armed security personnel are added to a base or center and that, in some cases, regular personnel are told to carry guns because of a heightened threat environment.
The Islamic State group, based in Syria and Iraq, has put great effort into trying to persuade Muslims via social media to kill U.S. military personnel.
“The tragic shooting on July 16 in Chattanooga, Tennessee, illustrates the continuing threat to DoD personnel in the U.S. homeland posed by Homegrown Violent Extremists,” Mr. Carter wrote. “This incident and the ongoing threat underscore the need for DoD to review its force protection and security policies, and procedures, particularly for off-installation DoD facilities.”
Mr. Carter reminded military leaders that current regulations allow authorized personnel to be armed at recruiting offices, such as the one attacked by Kuwait-born Muhammad Youssef Abdulazeez.
Pursued by police, Abdulazeez promptly made his way to a Navy-Marine Corps reserve center, where he gunned down four Marines and one sailor. Police shot and killed Abdulazeez.
The defense secretary said now is the time for the four branches to develop plans for the option of arming personnel, particularly 7,000 recruiting and ROTC stations that have no security and rely on local police.
Mr. Carter said he wants security improved at those sites.
“Looking at arming personnel doesn’t mean that’s what the services will ultimately decide,” said Capt. Jeff Davis, a Pentagon spokesman, as quoted by The Associated Press. “But it does tell them that they have, within DOD policy anyway, the existing authority to do that.”
Military personnel are generally not allowed to carry guns on base. That duty is left to security personnel and military police.
“I’m sure that the service chiefs, as they look at this, will be well aware of the constraints that they face in doing this, and that will be part of their plans,” Capt. Davis said.
Rep. Scott E. Rigell, the Virginia Republican who represents the military-rich Tidewater region, sent a letter to Mr. Carter urging him to change policy.
“I appreciate and support Secretary Carter’s decision to allow specified service members to carry firearms on military installations as a means of enhanced force protection,” Mr. Rigell said Thursday. “Our nation’s military Secretaries now have until August 21, 2015, to submit their specific policy recommendations to Secretary Carter. The solutions they advance should be comprehensive and equivalent to the known threat posed to our service members. Secretary Carter should move these policy changes forward deliberately and without unnecessary delay. Our service members have the right to defend themselves.”
Mr. Carter’s signed memo said, “I know commanders and other leaders will remain committed to the protection of our dedicated men and women of the all-volunteer force who sacrifice on a daily basis to keep our Nation free.”
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