Current / History

The Question of Force

I’ve been silent for a month, mainly due to the fact that I have been reading Team of Rivals to glean a better understanding of the political background to the outbreak of the Civil War.  But the events of the last week have dragged my focus back to the present with a vengeance.

Violence in the Navy Yard

On September 16, 2013, for the second time in almost four years armed individuals on a U.S. military installation have taken 13 lives.  Aaron Alexis, a 34-year old civilian contractor and honorably-discharged Navy reservist at the Washington Navy Yard shot and killed 12 inside NAVSEA Building 197 before MPDC shot Alexis in the head at 9:20 A.M. EDT.  Given that Nidal Malik Hasan, an active-duty major in the U.S. Army shot 13 dead at Fort Hood on November 5, 2009, understandably questions have arisen about security measures at U.S. military bases.  However, the loudest voices seem to be baying for more gunfire.  One of the responses in a publication hilariously entitled Reason to the mass violence last week lays blame the fact that U.S. military installations are “gun-free” zones:

Navy public affairs officers have full voicemail boxes, today, for obvious reason, so it’s difficult to learn if there were specific restrictions that applied to the Washington Navy Yard or to Naval Sea Systems Command Headquarters, where the shootings took place. But military installations, despite their obvious role in waging war, come pretty close to being gun-free zones, given the rules by which personnel and visitors must abide. Or, if not strictly gun-free-zones, they’re subject to tight regulations that keep most (law-abiding) people largely disarmed.

Firearms regulations at military installations are sufficiently byzantine that the Quantico Shooting Club at Marine Corps Base Quantico, Virginia, cautions members and guests about them and maintains a listing of restrictions (PDF). In particular, U.S. Navy Regulation 1159 (PDF) states:

Except as may be necessary to the proper performance of his or her duty or as may be authorized by proper authority, no person in the naval service shall:

a. have concealed about his or her person any dangerous weapon, instrument or device, or any highly explosive article or compound; or

b. have in his or her possession any dangerous weapon, instrument or device or any highly explosive article or compound on board any ship, craft, aircraft, or in any vehicle of the naval service or within any base or other place under naval jurisdiction.

The Quantico summary clarifies interpretation of the rules for the base, adding, “Under no circumstances will the transportation of loaded or concealed handguns, shotguns, or rifles be permitted on MCBQ except under those situations outlined in paragraph 7 of this Order.” That’s specific to Quantico, but there’s little reason to think that’s at wide variance from policy anywhere else.

Well, this is a Navy-wide regulation, so wide variance might be a little unusual. I would hope the Reason author would want to ask what methods the USN uses to enforce NR 1159, but instead J.D. Tuccille becomes completely unhinged:

Then-President Clinton issued an order in 1993 (PDF) severely tightening gun restrictions at all Department of the Army installations. The directive said in part, “The authorization to carry firearms will be issued only to qualified personnel when there is a reasonable expectation that life or Department of the Army (DA) assets will be jeopardized if firearms are not carried.” The same rules seem to apply to the other branches of service, to go by the Navy regulations above.

Other authors were quick to note that the March 1993 order was in reality Army Regulation 190-14:

If the [Washington] Times editorial board had taken the care to actually read that 14-page document, it would have realized that the impetus for the Army regulation was, in turn, Department of Defense directive 5210.56, which was issued on February 25, 1992, and was considered “effective immediately” for the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines. Clinton, of course, did not take office until January 20, 1993.

Just reading the summary on page one of AR 190-14 shows that, like NR 1159, the policy is standardized across the armed services:


AR 190–14

Carrying of Firearms and Use of Force for Law Enforcement and Security Duties

This revision—

o Implements applicable portions of Department of Defense Directive 5210.56.

o Clearly establishes minimum qualification requirements for military policeand Department of the Army law enforcement and security personnel (para 2-3).

o Expands authorization documentation options for authorizing officials (para 2-4).

o Limits and controls the carrying of firearms by Department of the Army military and civilian personnel (para 2-6).

o Prohibits the carrying of non-Government owned or issued weapons or ammunition (para 2-6).

o Prohibits carrying of firearms by persons taking prescription drugs or other medication that may cause drowsiness or impair reaction or judgment (para 2-7).

o Prohibits consumption of alcohol within 8 hours of carrying firearm or flying in aircraft (paras 2-7 and 4-3).

o Requires the use of deadly force with firearms be applied equally to personnel using a weapon or equipment which, when properly employed in their intended application, would exert deadly force (para 3-2).

Missing this summary is almost impossible, as the phrase SUMMARY of CHANGE is actually bolded, italicized, and 48-point font in the Army document.  But arguing about the semantics of 20 years of Army, Navy and DOD regulations ignores the elephant in the room Tuccille likewise misses:

That makes military bases much like other “gun-free zones.” They’re only as well protected as the willingness of would-be perpetrators to follow rules allows, along with the ability of a thin line of personnel authorized to carry arms to deter or stop criminals.

No, military bases are not like schools, Mr. Tuccille.  Second Amendment advocates love to harp on this—the real question is how well are these regulations enforced?

Guns and Magnetometers

Not even in Biff Webster’s (sorry, Wayne LaPierre’s) fevered imagination could this be accomplished at Sandy Hook or Virginia Tech:

These photos were from an October 2001 SF Chronicle article describing California National Guard units being prepared to backstop airport security at SFO.  I remember seeing M16-toting Guardsmen at LAX and SFO until approximately March 19, 2003 (Google it if “Shock and Awe” doesn’t ring a bell).

In my emotional irrationality after the shootings at Sandy Hook in December 2012, I initially considered advocating putting magnetometers and X-ray machines in the entrances to all schools in the United States, backstopped with police armed and trained to properly use rifles akin to the weapons soldiers carried inside American airports starting 12 years ago.  I quickly came to realize the pitfalls of such a position for elementary schools, but military installations are a whole different animal.

The entrances to U.S. military bases already sport soldiers, marines, airmen, and sailors equipped with assault rifles.  The servicemen guarding these installations stop and check identification of every person trying to access the base.  The flaw in security at Fort Hood and the Washington Navy Yard was and remains that Major Hasan and Petty Officer Third Class Alexis were authorized to enter, but no consideration was taken to inquire whether Hasan on November 5, 2009 or Alexis on September 16, 2013 were authorized to be armed.  Given the fact that the chances of a passenger discharging a firearm past airport security are likely vanishingly slim, this conundrum seems eminently solvable.

A revised security proposal might begin with doing more than checking IDs at the entrance.  Might I suggest…magnetometers and X-ray machines?  Special consideration should be given to no one of any rank—both officers and enlisted (and civilians—Alexis falls into two categories) have committed massacres (if I wanted to be glib, security personnel might want to check those with the rank of O-4 and E-4 more thoroughly).  But I can already hear the naysayers—what about vehicles?

What about cars and trucks?  Search them too.  Again, this is nothing new at military bases.  A friend of mine took the AFOQT test at an Air Force base as a civilian almost a decade ago, and the guards at the gate (fatigued enlisted men armed with M16s, Beretta M9s and body armor) checked under the car and the trunk (for bombs, naturally) and my friend had to explain why he kept a large Maglite under his seat (the airman mistook the flashlight for a hunting knife).

Simply expanding the role of guard duty at military installations from preventing the unauthorized from gaining access to also preventing the authorized from transporting weapons onto base in contravention to Army and Navy regulations doesn’t seem too tall an order.  Instituting active surveillance for unauthorized weaponry certainly would be more effective than arming the workplace like the NRA desires—after all, Aaron Alexis managed to gun down an armed security officer.  But this just begs another question:

Why in God’s name do we make our military people so vulnerable that they have to rely on the DC police today?

Judson Phillips asks this salient question in the Washington Times and proceeds to go on a rant about how political correctness has killed the Marine Corps.  He gives no evidence for this, which seems understandable to me considering the Marines are in reality a battle-hardened force that has been at war for more than a decade.  The beginning of the answer to Phillips’s question is that military installations focus heavily on perimeter security, to the detriment of internal security as the massacres at Fort Hood and the Washington Navy Yard demonstrate.  But the rest of the answer is more sinister: military forces operate with very strict Rules of Engagement (and ROE violations can and do draw the full force of the UCMJ against the offending soldier/marine/airman/sailor) while police have a history of operating outside any meaningful boundaries for the use of force.


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