I distinctly remember the first Fort Hood shooting. I was driving to a speaking event in Dallas when my phone started ringing off the hook. The Third Armored Cavalry Regiment — my unit during my Iraq deployment — is based out of Fort Hood, and my friends were doing their own, informal “100 percent accountability” call to make sure we were all alive and unhurt.
I can remember feeling simultaneously relieved that my friends were all OK and enraged that other soldiers had been shot down in cold blood on home soil.
My phone didn’t ring immediately on Wednesday. By now, most of my brothers from Sabre Squadron have scattered around the country and around the world, but the thought of soldiers shot down, unarmed, on home soil is still infuriating — even if this time the shooter wasn’t a jihadist.
A few thoughts:
First and foremost, our prayers are with the families of the victims. The shock of violent, sudden loss is just too much to bear, and I pray that God will comfort them and grant them the strength to face the days ahead.
Second, if initial reports are true (and one should always view initial reports with skepticism) it appears that once again an insane person was sane enough to choose a soft target for his shooting rampage. Civilians are often shocked to hear how thoroughly vulnerable American soldiers are on their home bases. They’re not permitted to carry weapons and — in my experience — the police presence is relatively sparse. I’d say you have less of a chance of encountering immediate armed resistance on a military base than you do in a typical small southern town. In fact, according to the Washington Post, “current policy requires soldiers to register their own personal weapons with commanders and to keep those weapons in the arms room.”
Third, it’s difficult to justify this mandatory vulnerability. Every soldier is trained to use a weapon. Downrange, every soldier carries a weapon at all times — even in the largest, safest bases where soldiers never get within sight of the enemy — and in almost 13 years of war, these soldiers have proven they can responsibly carry firearms in non-combat situations. When I deployed, I kept my M4 and my sidearm with me at all times, day and night, with both in easy arm’s reach even when I slept. In fact, I’d argue there’s a real virtue in a soldier maintaining constant contact with his weapon. It creates a sense of accountability along with ease and comfort of use. Especially for soldiers in the support ranks, this kind of easy familiarity with a weapon can be critical if and when they find themselves in combat.
Fourth, note the ease with which even the most extreme gun-control rules are violated, with deadly consequences.
Fifth, beware of the PTSD explanation. Apparently (again, if early reports are true) the gunman — who deployed to Iraq in 2011 as combat operations were all but over — never saw combat. There is a distressing tendency to take troubled soldiers (especially if they’re vets of Iraq or Afghanistan) and throw around the “PTSD” label regardless of the facts. It’s an easy and cheap narrative, but it casts a cloud over all who served downrange.
We should endeavor to keep guns out of the hands of individuals known to be mentally unfit, but that will always be an imprecise, hit-or-miss effort. We should also be permitted to defend ourselves when criminals strike, and it is heartbreaking that once again trained soldiers were shot down without even the chance of self-defense.
Perhaps it’s time to treat the members of our military like the soldiers they are. Let them carry the weapons they’ve been trained to use.
David French is senior counsel at the American Center for Law and Justice.
National Review Online