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Would more guns make bases safer?

FORT HOOD, Texas — Sixty-four soldiers and civilians have been killed or wounded in a pair of mass shootings here in less than five years.

All of them were unarmed, as is required by Pentagon policy.

Two soldiers carrying powerful handguns shot them. And some say more victims would have survived if they, too, had been armed.

“Let's say a suspect might say, 'I'm going to go in, I'm going to shoot up this place,'” said retired Staff Sgt. Alonzo Lunsford, who was shot seven times at Fort Hood by Army psychiatrist Nidal Hasan in the November 2009 rampage that killed 13 people. “Well, if everybody has a gun, he might hit one, but you won't be able to shoot the whole place up.”

The April 2 shooting spree by Spc. Ivan Lopez, who killed three soldiers and wounded 16 before taking his own life, has renewed the familiar debate over guns.

A 1992 Pentagon directive prohibits privately-owned weapons on military installations unless a senior commander makes an exception. Only those in law enforcement or security duties can be armed.

The Pentagon allows “qualified personnel” to carry weapons “when there is a reasonable expectation that life or (Defense Department) assets will be jeopardized.”

It says “evaluation of the necessity to carry a firearm shall be made considering this expectation weighed against the possible consequences of accidental or indiscriminate use of firearms.”

Senior Army commanders can prohibit soldiers from carrying weapons, require those living on post to register them and place their firearms in a post or unit armory.

Gun proponents want to change the policy. After last week's rampage, former presidential hopeful Mike Huckabee, a leading voice in the debate, argued on Facebook that President Barack Obama could stop shootings on military bases “for good.”

“All he has to do is rescind (the) order banning military personnel from carrying sidearms. That turned our bases into 'gun-free zones,' or as I call them, sitting duck zones,” he wrote. “And why? Is anyone better trained to carry a weapon than the U.S. military?”

But some war veterans and longtime soldiers said arming all troops on the post would compound the danger, because not all GIs are proficient with firearms.

Active-duty soldiers are required to qualify with their weapons, often M-4 rifles, twice a year. National Guard and Reserve soldiers qualify once annually. Troops in units not assigned an individual weapon are exempt from those qualification rules.

“How many people in various (job specialties) actually qualify or go on the range once each year? I would suspect that it's a very small percentage,” said retired Marine Lt. Gen. Bernard Trainor.

“I don't know what the statistics are, but I suspect that there are very few people who are in administrative or technical (job specialties) that do three or four years in the military and have more than a familiarization with a weapon when they were going through troop training,” he said.

The Army didn't provide figures, but retired Col. Joe Collins, a National War College professor, said the potential for trouble is obvious.

Fort Hood has more than 40,000 active-duty troops on the post. Overall, about 17 percent of all soldiers in the Army are in combat-related jobs.

“When you have hundreds of people carrying weapons, the possibility for accidental discharge is huge, and every place I ever went in the military, there was the occasional accidental discharge of a weapon.”

He said arming all soldiers is “a solution to a nonexistent problem,” and noted that gun violence on posts is rare.

“No. 1. ... this is not a huge problem in the U.S. military and, secondly, this just makes no sense, and there's no precedent for it and there's no need,” he said.

“The solution is not arming untrained enthusiasts,” agreed Iraq invasion veteran Andrew Borene. “Basically, the answer is increased security posture using the trained professional resources of the military combined with law enforcement.”

But Lunsford, shot in the head and torso, said more armed troops would make the next gunman think twice.

“After all the training I went through, all I had to fight with was my hands,” he said. “If I had had something to even the playing field, Maj. Hasan would not be here today.”
 

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