Last week’s Islamic terrorist attacks on Navy facilities in Chattanooga left four Marines and one sailor dead, and immediately restarted debate on the long-standing George H.W. Bush-era policy that effectively turned military bases into “gun free zones.”

The thought behind the 1992 Department of Defense directive seemed to be focused on reducing the threat of negligent discharges on-post. It may be shocking to many civilians, but most people in the military rarely touch firearms, and most have minimal training with them.

Quite frankly, it was a reasonable policy issued after the Soviet Union collapsed and we didn’t see any credible threats against stateside military bases.

Unfortunately, we’ve now had a string of five mass shootings on domestic military facilities since 2009, causing 88 gunshot casualties, 34 of whom were killed. Quite clearly, the risk of attack is greater than the risk of negligent discharges, and the old policy is not adequate to deal with current threats.

The civilian response to the failure of military leadership in the Department of Defense and the White House has been heartwarming.

There has been a massive public outcry to update this failed DoD directive, and in the absence of an immediate military response, some civilians have taken it upon themselves to arm themselves and stand watch outside of military recruiting facilities.

These shows of support are sincere and well-meant, but they are also causing concern among Army bureaucrats:

Someone sent us this policy letter last night from the Command Operations Center – Security Division of the US Army Recruiting Command in regards to the folks who are standing outside recruiting offices to ostensibly protect recruiters from terrorists;

Subject: USAREC Policy – Armed citizens at recruiting centers ATO’s,

Situation: The USAREC COC has received reports from two Brigade ATOs, social media and TV coverage that law abiding armed citizens are standing outside of our recruiting centers in an attempt to safeguard our recruiters.


1) Recruiters will not acknowledge the presence or interact with these civilians. If questioned by these alleged concerned citizens; be polite, professional, and terminate the conversation immediately and report the incident to local law enforcement and complete USAREC Form 958 IAW USAREC 190-4 (SIR)

2) Do not automatically assume these concerned citizens are there to help.
Immediately report IAW USAREC 190-4 (Suspicious Behavior)

3) Immediately report any civilians loitering near the Station/Center to local police if the recruiter feels threatened. Ensure your recruiters’ clearly articulate to local police the civilian may be armed and in possession of a conceal/carry permit. Ensure recruiters include any information provided by local police in their SIR reporting the incident.

4) Ensure all station commanders implement FPCON Charlie 6 (Lock and secure entry points) addressed in previous email.

5) I’m sure the citizens mean well, but we cannot assume this in every case and we do not want to advocate this behavior.

*** The timely and accurate submission of 958s (SIR) is imperative to track these incidents and elicit support from TRADOC, ARNORTH and NORTHCOM.

I’ve already seen a few complaints that the directive for recruiters to to call police if they see armed civilians amounts to “SWATting.” That interpretation is a bit melodramatic. U.S. Army Recruiting Command is in an awkward position. While they no doubt understand that most of the civilians showing up with their personal arms to “guard” the recruiting sites are well-meaning, they can’t discern intent or competence visually. That same inability to determine intent visually is the same reason that long gun open-carriers frequently end up on the wrong end of a 911 call.

Two militiamen stand watch in Tyler, Texas. The militia commander, Jerry Pleasant, USN (retired) on the right doesn’t have a rear sight for his carbine. This is quite clearly a symbolic act, and not a viable solution. (KLTV)

Like the Army, the Marines are touched by your support, but they don’t want you standing armed watch outside their recruiting facilities.

We’re sure your hearts are in the right place, folks, but these temporary shows of force are a problem because:

  • are a distraction for the recruiters, who now have to wonder about the intentions/competence of the armed people outside their door
  • are an impediment to recruiting, as your average citizen doesn’t want to be anywhere near unknown people with open-carried long guns (or pistols, in many instances)
  • they really are only sporadic, temporary, and symbolic; they don’t address the underlying problem

If you really want to help fix this issue for the long-term, your tool of choice needs to be your computer and your phone, reaching out to congressmen and senators on the state and national level, and help push through legislation revising this clearly-outdated policy.