After you recover from the shock of learning that Saudi pilots are training with American soldiers on our military bases, you’ll inevitably stumble across another stupefying question. How is it that the Saudi terrorist attacker at the Pensacola Naval Air Station was shot dead by local Pensacola sheriff’s deputies, while not a single sailor – officer or enlisted – had any firearm to defend himself? Well, much as President Trump promised to shut down visas from countries like Saudi Arabia, he also promised to end the gun-free zone status for our soldiers on bases. The time has come for him to fulfill both promises.
Last night, the House and Senate conference committee filed the annual National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for fiscal year 2020, authorizing up to $743.3 billion in defense spending. It includes $71.5 billion in funding for more “overseas contingency operations,” AKA nation-building in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria. But what is the point in funding such escapades if our soldiers can’t even arm themselves on our own bases? Why does Congress never debate the fundamental values, mission, and character of our military? It’s all about dollars and cents and never about policy. Now is the time for Trump to demand that real issues be dealt with in the NDAA, including arming soldiers on bases, or else he should use his authority as commander in chief to change the internal policies.
In the face of mass shootings on military bases, Trump promised emphatically to end the suicidal policies disarming our soldiers. Between terrorist attacks at Chattanooga and Fort Hood and domestic shooters on several other bases, it has become clear that base security only serves to deter good people with guns. As we painfully learned in Pensacola on Friday, the impervious security clearly didn’t stop Mohamad Alshamrani from bringing in a Glock .45.
Speaking at the February 2018 Conservative Political Action Conference, President Trump promised to “look at that whole military base gun-free zone [policy]. If we can’t have our military holding guns, it is pretty bad,” lamented the president as he mocked the gun-free zone policy. “We had a number of instances on military bases. You know that. We want to protect our military.”
In fact, Trump had already promised to get rid of gun-free zones in the military on his “first day” in office during the campaign. “I will get rid of gun-free zones on schools, and — you have to — and on military bases,” said Trump at a rally in Vermont on January 8, 2016. “My first day, it gets signed, okay? My first day. There’s no more gun-free zones.”
But like so many instances where the president has good instincts, the broken military leadership pushed back and conservatives were too distracted to put up a fight, so the White House dropped the idea. These are the same military leaders who knowingly sent our soldiers to die in Afghanistan with no defined mission or plan to win. These are the same generals who work harder at prosecuting our warriors than defeating our enemies. These are the same generals that have pushed social engineering and have expunged Christianity from the military. And they are the same generals Trump said in 2016 have “been reduced to rubble” and “they have been reduced to a point where it’s embarrassing to our country.”
Secretary of Defense Mark Esper had a very tepid response to the Pensacola attacks. He praised the Saudi military training program as indispensable to national security and acts as if he can’t understand why Saudi nationals were filming the shooting. He sure doesn’t seem like the type of leader to push for arming our soldiers at bases.
The ban on carrying weapons dates back to a 1992 Pentagon directive, which can easily be overturned by Trump. In November 2016, Obama’s Department of Defense issued a directive allowing base commanders to give certain troops permission to carry concealed firearms on base “for a personal protection purpose not related to performance of an official duty or status” for a very limited period of time. Imagine that! They can’t carry weapons as part of their official duty as soldiers!
In 2016, five soldiers were killed at a Naval Reserve base in Chattanooga by Muhammad Youssef Abdulazeez. In 2013, 12 people were killed and 8 injured at the Washington Navy Yard by a disgruntled former sailor who suffered from mental illness. In 2009, 14 were killed and 30 injured by Nidal Hasan at Fort Hood. In all these cases, it took way too long for either local police or military police to arrive.
While gun-free zones are always a bad idea, as 96.2 percent of all mass shootings have occurred where guns are banned, having them on military bases is particularly counterintuitive. Given the strict security, the perpetrators know with certainty that, of all places, not a single soldier will be carrying a weapon because the penalty for doing so is quite severe. Yet, clearly, that same security hasn’t worked to prevent evil people from bringing in weapons. This policy makes our soldiers sitting ducks.
If these same generals believe in sending our soldiers to fight endless tribal civil wars overseas, the least they can do is allow them to be armed and protected on our own shores. That’s doubly true for the same generals who will advocate the continuation of training Middle Easterners on those very bases. The broken generals can’t have it all ways, and it’s time for Trump to call them on it.
Daniel Horowitz is a senior editor of Conservative Review. Follow him on Twitter @RMConservative.