How Will Latest Base Shooting Affect the Guns-on-Base Debate?

  Words by Bridget Foster.

Officials at Camp Lejeune in North Carolina confirmed that they were investigating a shooting that took place at the main gate of the base. Around 5:30 pm on Tuesday, a Marine on guard duty used his M4 rifle to shoot and kill another Marine who was also on guard duty.

Base officials did not provide information on the motive for the shooting but did state that they did not consider it an active shooter situation or an act of terrorism. The names of the two Marines have not been released but base authorities have said that the shooter “is no longer active” and is being questioned to determine if the shooting was accidental or deliberate.

Though different from the most recent base shootings in that the shooter was on duty, the incident is likely to add to the debate about safety and security on military bases.  Since the 2009 Fort Hood incident, the Pentagon has implemented measures to increase preparedness for active shooter incidents but, based on the comments found on various news and social media outlets, many servicemembers feel that the “gun-free” policy on US bases makes them a target. Except for base security personnel, servicemembers are prohibited from carrying weapons while on base, including their personal weapons even if they have concealed carry permits from civilian authorities.

Last September, in response to the Washington Navy Yard shooting, Congressman Steve Stockman introduced a bill, H.R. 3199, the “Safe Military Bases Act” that would repeal the ban on military personnel carrying weapons on base. The ban was implemented in 1993 via a directive to DOD issued in February of 1992 under the administration of George H.W. Bush.  “If members of Congress are protected by loaded automatic weapons in the Capitol, they have no right to deny that right to trained soldiers on base,” said Stockman. The bill would nullify any additional provisions which prohibit trained military personnel from carrying “officially issued or personally owned firearms on military bases.” It would also bar the President from issuing an executive order and the Secretary of Defense and the secretaries of each military branch from reinstating any regulations banning the carry of firearms. The last action on the bill was January 9, 2014 when it was referred to the House Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, Homeland Security and Investigations.

Chief of Staff of the Army, Gen. Ray Odierno supports the current policy of only arming specific soldiers on military bases: military police and those servicemembers who require a firearm to carry out their duty, such as guarding military assets.  The Pentagon reiterated its support of the current policy, saying that allowing guns to be carried on bases would do nothing to improve security and would be costly in terms of training and qualifications, as well as compliance with various weapons screening laws.

The fact that the latest shooting involved a military-issued weapon in the hands of a trained Marine who was authorized to carry the weapon only highlights how difficult it is for any policy to cover all the contingencies. Let’s just hope that common sense prevails and this too, does not become a political football during the mid-term campaigns.

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