WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump on Friday said he would re-examine federal policies restricting troops from carrying private firearms on military bases, calling it an important safety issue.
But Defense Department leaders have in the past resisted widespread changes to those firearms policies because of concerns it could lead to more accidental shootings and successful suicides.
The comments from the commander in chief came during a speech to the annual Conservative Political Action Conference, while he was talking about possible solutions to gun violence in America.
“We’re going to look at that whole military base gun-free zone,” he said. “If we can’t have our military holding guns, it’s pretty bad.
“We had a number of instances on military bases, you know that. So we want to protect our military. We want to make our military stronger and better than it’s ever been before.”
Trump specifically referenced the July 2015 shooting spree at a pair of military facilities in Chattanooga, Tennessee, in which a gunman killed four Marines and a sailor in a series of ambushes. The attacker was later killed in a firefight with police.
“They were on a military base in a gun-free zone,” Trump said. “They were asked to check their guns quite far away, and a maniac walked in, guns blazing, killed all five of them. He wouldn’t have had a chance if these world-class marksmen had, on a military base, access to their guns.”
Reports following the deaths of the service members found that at least two military personnel on scene were carrying personal firearms when they were attacked — possibly in violation of base rules — and unsuccessfully returned fire in an effort to stop the gunman.
The incident prompted a full review of the military’s policies regarding privately owned firearms, after conservative lawmakers argued that the attack could have been stopped sooner if more servicemembers had the ability to fire back.
More than a year later, in November 2016, the Defense Department issued new regulations regarding those weapons, allowing commanders to grant permission to certain troops — those over 21 with valid state firearms licenses who request a weapon for personal protection — for up to 90 days.
But top Pentagon officials and base commanders also expressed concerns at that time about a new influx of private weapons on base, saying it could lead to confusion over official duties, more accidental shootings and an increase in suicides among struggling service members.
Trump’s suggestion on military weapons came amid a host of other possible policy changes, including arming school personnel to deal with the possibility of outside attackers.
“I don’t want a person that’s never handled a gun, that wouldn’t know what a gun looks like, to be armed,” he said. “But out of your teaching population, you have 10 percent, 20 percent of very gun-adept people, military people, law enforcement people. They teach.”
He also said that leaders “need to create a culture in our country that cherishes life and human dignity … a culture that condemns violence and never glorifies violence” as part of the solution to the problem.
Leo covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He has covered Washington, D.C. since 2004, focusing on military personnel and veterans policies. His work has earned numerous honors, including a 2009 Polk award, a 2010 National Headliner Award, the IAVA Leadership in Journalism award and the VFW News Media award.