NEW: Tennessee governor moves National Guard recruitment centers to armories
Military forbids service members from carrying weapons on bases and in recruiting centers
Civilian guard movements have popped up around the United Stated in protest
“I’m here to protect our military because they’re not allowed to protect themselves,” Texan Orlando Perez told CNN affiliate KRGV-TV.
Perez is one of many gun-toting civilians across the country who have taken it upon themselves to guard members of the military in the wake of last week’s shooting in Chattanooga, Tennessee, that left five service members dead.
These civilian guard movements began in part to protest the military’s policy of forbidding service members from carrying weapons on bases and in recruiting centers. The civilians have said the policy is unreasonable and leaves members of the military vulnerable to attack.
But the military is not welcoming the civilian guards.
A Navy official told CNN on Wednesday that should unauthorized armed civilians attempt to patrol outside a Navy recruiting center, recruitment personnel would try to work elsewhere. They could choose to spend the day at a school, mall, on travel or other duties that would keep them away from the center.
In related news Wednesday, Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam announced new security measures, temporarily moving National Guard recruitment locations from storefronts to guard armories and expediting the handgun permit process for members of the military. Governors in at least 10 other states issued orders allowing National Guard members to carry weapons in recruiting centers, with Ohio and Kentucky joining Wednesday.
The civilian protests span much of the country, with guards popping up at recruitment centers in Alabama, Georgia, Indiana, Texas, Washington and elsewhere. Some guards have gone on their own, while others have joined a burgeoning network of people in person and online. Some standing guard have affiliated themselves with Oath Keepers and Three Percenters, groups the Anti-Defamation League has described as “part of an anti-government extremist movement.”
Many of the guard members see their stand as a simple way to show support for the military.
“We’re just out here paying it forward, basically. I mean, they work for us 24/7, so I figure it couldn’t hurt to donate a few hours of our time to make sure they get safe,” Brandon McNeilly of Tennessee told CNN affiliate WATE-TV.
The kinds of weapons used in the protests have included assault rifles, shotguns and handguns. According to a Facebook post for one group helping organize civilian guards, “Baseball bats can do the trick, too.”
Some members of the military and conservative politicians have supported the push for military members to carry guns in federal facilities. Rand Paul, the libertarian-leaning junior senator from Kentucky and GOP presidential contender, has begun to work on legislation to do just that, according to The Washington Post.
Of course, reactions have been mixed online.
“We have to be allowed to fight with both of our hands and not with one behind our back,” retired Army Staff Sgt. Alonzo Lunsford told CNN’s Don Lemon. Lunsford was shot seven times in a 2009 attack at Fort Hood, Texas. “So, arm our military personnel. We have the training. We have the restraint to use these weapons,” he said
The National Rifle Association expressed support for changing the rules governing guns in military installations, saying that prohibiting members of the military from carrying firearms was “outrageous.”
Regardless of the enthusiasm for arming service members on U.S. soil, military policy is unlikely to change, and many people remain opposed to such a change.
Speaking to reporters Wednesday, Department of Defense spokesman Capt. Jeff Davis reiterated the existing policy.
“We do not support arming all military personnel,” Davis told CNN’s Barbara Starr.
Places such as shopping centers and strip malls, where recruiting centers are often located, are civilian areas. Gen. Raymond Odierno, chief of staff of the Army, said the legality of arming recruiters in such areas could be controversial since the law does not permit the military to shoot civilians in the United States.
In a statement Tuesday, the U.S. Marine Corps said, “While we greatly appreciate the support of the American public during this tragedy, we ask that citizens do not stand guard at our recruiting offices. Our continued public trust lies among our trained first responders for the safety of the communities where we live and work.”
In light of Defense Department policy and the Marine Corps request for the protests to stop, some armed citizens standing outside recruiting offices seemed to grasp the difficulty of changing the policy but still expressed belief that their guard meetings are a step in the right direction.
“Until they are allowed to carry, I will be out here to help them understand that somebody is watching them,” Perez told KRGV.