DoD Establishes Procedure for Military Personnel to Carry Guns on Base

Gun rights proponents see mixed results (updated)

The Department of Defense on Tuesday released its official policy for how and when military personnel can carry weapons for personal protection while on military bases.

The new policy is a response to an NRA-backed provision in the 2015 National Defense Authorization Act that required the Defense Department to allow more service members to carry firearms on base. The provision granted the Defense Department discretion to formulate a gun carry policy, but specified the policy should be enacted by Dec. 31, 2015. The Defense Department did not disclose its policy until Tuesday.

The department issued a directive clarifying the process service members must follow to carry a gun for self defense on military property. Service members who are not assigned to carry weapons for their military duties can now request permission to carry "a privately owned firearm (concealed or open carry) on DoD property for a personal protection purpose not related to performance of an official duty or status." Military commanders retain the final say on whether or not a service member is allowed to carry a gun on base.

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Service members who want to carry on Defense Department property while off-duty will face requirements similar to those imposed by most states for civilian gun-carry permits. They must be 21 years of age, without a military discipline record or civilian criminal record, and trained in the use of firearms. Service members who want to carry on duty must fulfill stricter requirements than those necessary for civilian gun-carry permits in most states.

Any commander who allows a service member to carry a personal firearm while performing their official duties will have to submit paperwork identifying the service member, the type of firearm, and the circumstances in which gun carry is permitted. The policy requires service members to undergo rigorous firearms training on a regular basis. The Defense Department will only consider gun-carry requests from service members who have received a specific or general threat that "relates to the person’s official duties or status." Authorization will be permitted for "the same period as the duration of the threat."

The standard for justifiable lethal force in self-defense situations is higher for service members carrying while on duty than for civilians. Most states view lethal force as justified when a defender reasonably fears he or she may be killed or suffer serious bodily injury by an attacker. The Defense Department policy requires defenders to exhaust all non-lethal forms of defense before resorting to lethal force. Many gun rights activists think that standard could lead to harmful inaction and second-guessing by service members who would be seen as innocent in civilian courts.

Gun rights proponents offered mixed reactions to the new policy.

Alan Gottlieb of the Second Amendment Foundation criticized the length and complexity of the Pentagon directive. "Only the government could take 26 pages to justify the right and need to have a firearm for self-defense," he told the Washington Free Beacon. "It took the founding fathers only a sentence: The Second Amendment."

Chris Cox, the head of the NRA's lobbying arm, praised the provision when it first passed in 2015. "The brave men and women in our Armed Forces should not be left defenseless against terrorists on American soil," he said at the time. "Local commanders now have the authority to allow service men and women to be armed while on base. Members of the military should have the same ability to defend themselves as every other law-abiding citizen."

The NRA remains pleased with the decision, saying the Pentagon had taken a "good first step," while criticizing its limitations.

"It is a good first step in that it recognizes personal protection is a valid issue for service members, but there are many roadblocks in the way of making that option available," NRA spokeswoman Jennifer Baker told the Free Beacon.

UPDATE 8:20 P.M.: This article has been updated to clarify the different standards that will apply to service members when on duty and off duty.