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(Editor’s note: Master Sgt. C.J. Grisham is an active-duty soldier stationed at Fort Hood, Texas, who was working on post during the mass shooting Wednesday.)
By C.J. Grisham
When I started Open Carry Texas last year, my focus was on educating the public about the benefits of an armed society. I hear all the time from proponents of gun control that “in this day and age” it’s so important to restrict access to firearms to prevent people from using them to commit evil atrocities. The problem with this philosophy is that gun control laws only victimize law abiding citizens by making them defenseless.
By definition, criminals don’t obey laws, no matter how altruistic and holistic those laws may be.
For years on my personal blog, A Soldier’s Perspective, I spoke out against so-called gun-free zones. My first awareness about the pitfalls of these victimization zones, as I call them, came in 1991. Originally hailing from Temple, Texas, the Luby’s shooting hit home for me. I was only in high school at the time, but recognizing that a member of my family could have been in that restaurant on Oct. 16, 1991, I was acutely aware of the impact that shooting had on my stance on gun control.
Then, in 1993, Army Regulation 190-14 (Carrying of Firearms and Use of Force for Law Enforcement and Security Duties) was updated with new rules on what, when and how soldiers could carry firearms on military installations. The policy banned all manner of carry except for “DA personnel regularly engaged in law enforcement or security duties.”
It became the Army’s policy that “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 assets will be jeopardized if firearms are not carried.” Naturally, this policy was implemented prior to Sept. 11, 2001.
Since that Army policy went into effect and other services followed suit, there have been nearly two dozen shootings at U.S. military installations. I vividly remember shortly after arriving to my new unit at Fort Stewart, Ga., when Pfc. Craig Jones walked into the orderly room of his unit and shot Sgt. Michael Santiago in the chest and arm, killing him. This was in March 2002.
In September 2008, a soldier at Fort Hood shot and killed his lieutenant before committing suicide. Spc. Armano Baca shot Sgt. Ryan Schlack in July 2009 on the same base. Since guns were banned on military installations, there have been shootings on Fort Drum, Fort Carson, Fort Bragg, Fort Knox and many other military installations!
In November 2009, I was out-processing at Redstone Arsenal, Ala., en route to my new assignment on Fort Hood, Texas. At the same time, Army Maj. Nidal Hassan walked into a deployment center on Fort Hood and opened fire on his fellow soldiers, killing 13 and injuring 30 others.
And all of these shootings happened in gun-free zones. Every single one of these shootings happened at a place where the very people trained to deal with armed attackers were defenseless against an armed attacker.
No one can say for certain these incidents would disappear were soldiers allowed to carry personal firearms. However, it can be said with a certainty that any future tragedy will be executed unopposed as long as soldiers are not at least given the opportunity to defend themselves. There’s a saying that it’s better to have a gun and not need it, than not have a gun and need it.
After every one of these tragedies, we as a nation wring our collective hands trying to figure out what went wrong and how to prevent the next shooting. And each time, the simple idea of allowing troops to carry concealed firearms never seems to cross our minds. Why not?
I believe that one reason we are hesitant to allow troops to carry in uniform is because we think arming soldiers will lead to more such shootings. Many people said the same thing about Texas when we were debating the concealed handgun law. Critics said there would be blood in the streets. But, this isn’t backed up by logic, fact or even experience.
Right this second, virtually every soldier in Afghanistan is carrying a loaded weapon, whether it be a pistol or a rifle. At the very least, they are carrying an unloaded weapon with ammunition readily available and at their disposal. No one can honestly say that being deployed is less stressful than being back home in a garrison environment. Yet, in spite of the prevalence of firearms in the hands of nearly every single troop in a stressful combat environment, the existence of fratricide is practically non-existent.
It would be the height of hypocrisy to suggest that soldiers are more or less capable of managing their emotions with a firearm in one environment over another. The fact remains that in spite of the 1993 regulation and policy, service members are carrying guns onto military installations and killing unarmed victims; victims that may have had a chance to live if they were permitted an opportunity to defend themselves. Even when not carrying guns on military installations, many service members are carrying them off base without feeling the urge to shoot the first person that looks at them cross-eyed.
How many more of my brothers and sisters must die before we, as a nation, wake up and put an end to these ironically titled “gun-free zones”? How many more examples of innocent, unarmed citizens being slaughtered by men with evil intent must we endure? Why do we disarm the very people who are the most well-trained in the use of firearms in defensive and offensive situations?
I am not arguing that the military simply abolish its policy altogether and just allow everyone and their mother to carry a firearm onto a military installation – though I don’t see why not. After all, there is a constitutional amendment that recognizes that right. But, I’ve never been one to identify a problem without a solution.
The military should initiate a policy that, at a minimum, allows soldiers with concealed handgun licenses to carry their firearms on them. The Department of Defense could even institute its own concealed handgun licensing requirement so at the very least it knows which soldiers are armed and whether they are qualified. To combat the constant stream of motorcycle deaths, the Army instituted a program that requires soldiers to be trained and certified prior to riding a motorcycle onto a military installation.
Why not train and certify soldiers in order to permit them to carry a concealed handgun on post? Those who are trained and certified would be required to renew their certifications annually or whenever they move to another military installation. Guns brought onto military installations are already registered, so make that another aspect of the licensing requirement. If a soldier wants to carry a different handgun, he/she must be re-certified with the new handgun they wish to carry.
Whatever we do, it’s obvious that what we are currently doing doesn’t work. It’s not working in gun-free shopping centers; it’s not working in gun-free schools; it’s not working in gun-free cities; and it doesn’t work in gun-free military installations.
In December 2012, NRA Executive Director Wayne Lapierre, eloquently stated: “The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun. Would you rather have your 911 call bring a good guy with a gun from a mile away or a minute away?”
The fact is that the overwhelming majority of gun owners are law abiding citizens. Gun owners who jump through the hoops to become licensed gun owners are even less likely to commit crimes. In Texas, only .18 percent of gun owners have committed ANY crime at all. Hardly any of those crimes were committed with a gun. The time to end gun free zones is now, no matter where they exist.
C.J. Grisham is president and founder of Open Carry Texas, a Texas-based organization dedicated to the safe and legal carry of firearms and has over 19 years of active military service. He has been writing about gun rights on his blog, A Soldier’s Perspective, since 2005. The views expressed here are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Department of Defense, the Department of the Army or any branch of the government.