HILL AIR FORCE BASE — The Air Force has publicly reiterated a little known policy that allows airmen to carry guns on base, whether they are on duty or not.
The Secretary of the Air Force released a bulletin last week highlighting the agency’s Unit Marshal Program, which allows “commanders at every level” to permit individual airmen to carry an M9 pistol at their duty location.
Installation commanders grant final approval under the program and airmen who qualify to be armed are required to complete a training course from an installation’s Security Forces squadron.
The Air Force did not offer an explanation regarding the timing of the bulletin release, but in it, Maj. Keith Quick, Air Force Security Forces Integrated Defense action officer, said the program is designed to provide additional security during potential “active-shooter” incidents. The bulletin refers to “tragic events that have taken place on and off installations over the past few years.”
“We looked at active-shooter incidents across the country and there are statistics out there that show where many ended without police intervention because there was somebody there who had a concealed carry permit or somebody interdicted the active shooter,” Quick said in the bulletin. “These programs allow commanders the ability to arm additional trained airmen who could interdict before police arrive and are trained to stand down when police arrive.”
In an email to the Standard-Examiner, Hill Air Force Base spokesman Micah Garbarino said with the recent bulletin “the DoD is merely formalizing and reinforcing the options available to installation commanders.”
Garbarino said Hill officials are analyzing the program for implementation on the base.
“Security Forces are currently looking into all the options available to determine the program that best fits Hill needs,” he said. “Hill's leadership has been researching the programs and communicating with other installations. The final decision on these programs rests with the base commander.”
Dick Schaffert, a retired U.S. Navy captain who regularly visits Hill, said he likes the policy but worries about how effective it will really be.
“We have to be able to take care of ourselves on base,” he said. “I just hope they don’t have these rules of engagement that absolutely ties (an airman’s) hands. The kind of thing where you draw your weapon and your career is over.”
In the bulletin, Quick briefly recapped engagement rules under the program.
“The goal of the UMP is to protect (airmen), their immediate work space and the people within it,” he said. “They are not first responders, they are not to go to the sound of fire, they are not to chase bad guys. If an active shooter happened, these members are not authorized to engage unless confronted directly by the active shooter.”
Gary Sackett, a Salt Lake City area attorney who serves on the Gun Violence Prevention Center of Utah’s board, said guns typically decrease general safety, but he isn’t aware of any data that would give a definitive answer to how arming service members would impact a military installation.
“The Air Force is the master of its own regulations on base. But, the question of are they safer or less safer? I’m not sure I could answer that,” he said. “The presence of guns, just generally, makes a society less safe. But all we have here is the civilian analogy and that’s somewhat tenuous because no one would deny the situation on a military base is not exactly comparable to regular civilian life.”
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