Photo by Jay Janner/Austin American-Statesman
Heavily armed civilian police officers (not soldiers) guarding the East Rancier Gate At Fort Hood, April 3, 2014.  Photo by Jay Janner/Austin American-Statesman

The Attack

Yesterday afternoon, U.S. Army Specialist Ivan Lopez brought a recently-purchased handgun onto Fort Hood and opened fire upon his fellow soldiers. Three soldiers were killed in the attack, and 16 others were wounded. Three of the wounded are listed in critical condition.

The incident ended after a female officer (at this time there are conflicting reports on whether the officer was civilian police or military police) encountered Lopez in a parking lot near the scene of the shooting. Lopez pulled his gun, at which point the officer “engaged” Lopez.  Lopez then committed suicide.

The Attacker

Ivan Lopez was a truck driver for the Army. He served for four months in Iraq, and was not combat wounded. Nonetheless, he “self-diagnosed” himself with a traumatic brain injury, which is most commonly caused by IEDs. There are many pundits and news sources claiming that he suffered from PTSD, but the military never diagnosed him with post-traumatic stress. He apparently claimed to be depressed and was undergoing a mental health evaluation. He had transferred to Fort Hood in February, was married, and had a child.

The Gun

The firearm used in the attack was reported as a Smith & Wesson pistol chambered in .45 ACP. Smith & Wesson makes two main .45 ACP semi-automatic variants.

The 1911 series is a variant of the single-action semi-automatic pistol that was the U.S. military’s standard sidearm from World War I, and which is making a comeback in some units. A full-size variant utilizes a single-stack 8-round magazine, and a compact variant utilizes a 7-round magazine.

The more modern, common, and less-expensive line of Smith & Wesson pistols is the M&P (Military & Police) series. It is a striker-fired pistol with a polymer frame. The full-size .45 ACP variant features a 10-round magazine, while a compact variant features an 8-round magazine.

Magazine capacity in this shooting is obviously irrelevant. The shooter reloaded multiple times over the course of 10-15 minutes, during which time he appears to have been able to rampage uncontested.

The Law

Some (including Fox News)  are attempting to blame President Bill Clinton for instituting a ban on military personal being armed while on duty. This is factually incorrect. Others are attempting to place the blame on George H.W. Bush’s administration, pointing to Department of Defense Directive 5210.56 (PDF), which was signed early in the last year of his presidency. Even that is incorrect, as the 1992 directive was simply an update to the original 5210.56 issued in 1969 under the Nixon administration. We have been unable to determine how long similar policies have been in effect, but bans on military personnel carrying weapons on base while on duty are at least 45 years old.

The Reality

While pundits have been almost uniformly wrong who first instituted the ban, they’ve still brought up a valid point.

We’ve now had three significant attacks on U.S. domestic military bases during Mr. Obama’s Presidency (Fort Hood in 2009, Washington Navy Yard in 2013, Fort Hood again yesterday). In these three incidents, 28 people have been killed and 46+ have been injured, not including the shooters.

In each instance, the policy of disarmament failed miserably, and ensured that there were no armed servicemen on massive military bases that stretch across huge swathes of land, with only a thin scattering of civilian contract police, military police officers, and servicemen on special assignments. It took 10-15 minutes for police to arrive at the scene of yesterday’s shooting according to General Milley in last night’s press conference. It took an hour for police to kill Aaron Alexis at the Washington Navy Yard. Hasan’s rampage lasted for ten long minutes before civilian base police finally incapacitated him.

This is entirely unacceptable.

This policy—whoever instituted it—is a proven failure.

It is now well known that our largest domestic military installations are essentially “gun free zones,” where criminals or terrorists know that they can run rampant and virtually unopposed for at least ten minutes and perhaps as long as an hour before facing opposition, killing and injuring servicemen disarmed by craven politicians.

This policy must be reconsidered.