Politics & Policy

Defense Secretary Allows for Arming Personnel at Military Facilities

In a change of policy, Defense Secretary Ashton Carter has decided to allow some armed-forces personnel to carry weapons at U.S. military facilities as a defensive measure, following the recent deadly attack on a Marine Corps recruitment office in Tennessee.

Carter told military officials to “augment security, including the option of additional armed personnel” in a memo released Thursday. “The policy allows for the arming of qualified [Department of Defense] personnel (not regularly engaged in law enforcement duties) based on the threat and the immediate need to protect DoD assets and lives,” he writes. The memo also calls for “practical physical security upgrades” and improved warning systems.

Defense Department officials were standing by the ban on armed personnel as recently as last week. “We do not support arming all military personnel for a variety of reasons,” Navy Captain Jeff Davis told reporters at the Pentagon. “(There are) safety concerns, the prohibitive cost for use-of-force and weapons training, qualification costs as well as compliance with multiple weapons-training laws.”

But the Pentagon has been reviewing the policy in light of the Tennessee shooting, the latest in a series of attacks on unarmed military personnel in the United States over the last several years. Legislation to change the policy enjoyed bipartisan sponsorship and support in both the House and Senate. “Those who volunteer to protect Americans abroad should not be prevented from protecting themselves when they return home,” Representative Steve Cohen (D., Tenn.) told reporters last week.

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Carter’s policy change drew praise from members of both parties. “We trust our military service personnel to carry weapons in foreign lands to protect our freedoms, so we should absolutely give them the same level of confidence here at home,” Representative Lou Barletta (R., Penn.), one of 58 lawmakers who wrote a letter requesting the change, said Friday. “It is unconscionable that we would leave our brave men and women as sitting ducks when they are on duty on military installations in this country.”

— Joel Gehrke is a political reporter for National Review.

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