Freedomnomics

Article published Thursday, July 29, 2015, at TribLIVE.

Don't leave our military personnel defenseless

By John R. Lott, Jr.

Anytime, anyplace, terrorists can strike. With just his signature, President Obama could eliminate the gun-free zone policies that leave our military personnel defenseless. Late last week, Republicans in the Pennsylvania Legislature called on Gov. Tom Wolf to exercise the same authority for the state National Guard.

Uniformed guards may help prevent mass shootings, but they aren't really a good solution. It's prohibitively costly to constantly guard all possible targets. And uniformed guards make for tempting first targets.

The FBI is monitoring potential threats in all 50 states, but it is stretched thin. It is hardly surprising that the Chattanooga killer, who left five people dead, wasn't on the FBI radar.

Interpol Secretary General Ron Noble noted two means of protecting people from mass shootings. “One is to say we want an armed citizenry ... . Another is to say the enclaves (should be) so secure that in order to get into the soft target you're going to have to pass through extraordinary security.”

Warning how difficult it is to completely secure areas, he added that, “You can't have armed police forces everywhere.” Referring to a terrorist attack in the Kenyan city of Nairobi, where people are banned from carrying guns, Noble asked: “If that was Texas, would those guys have been able to spend hours, days, shooting people randomly? What I'm saying is it makes police around the world question their views on gun control.”

Mass public killers understand this. They talk about finding easy targets. Take just this last year, with the attacks in Charleston, in Santa Barbara and in New Brunswick, Canada. The story is the same. The killers explicitly targeted unarmed victims.

The Obama administration has previously responded to attacks on military bases by calling for greater emphasis on mental health evaluations. But mental health can do only so much. Half of all mass public shooters were seeing mental health professionals. Yet, none of them were flagged as a danger to others.

So, what if mental health screening fails? What if the FBI can't detect and prevent these attacks?

Allowing soldiers to defend themselves provides a backup. With the exception of medical facilities, soldiers stationed in Iraq and Afghanistan were required to keep their firearms with them at all times. And they did so safely. Yet, those very same soldiers are no longer trusted to carry a gun once they return to the United States.

We have long been on notice. Besides the 2009 and 2014 Fort Hood and the 2013 Navy Yard attacks, terrorists successfully targeted the Little Rock, Ark., Army Navy Career Center in 2009, Pentagon gate in 2010 and a Nevada IHOP restaurant in 2011, where four National Guard soldiers were killed. Governors in Florida, Texas, Louisiana, Arkansas, Nebraska, Oklahoma and Indiana acted quickly and ordered National Guardsmen to be armed. Unfortunately, these guardsmen will still be disarmed on federal property.

As in civilian life, not everyone on a military base needs to be armed. If he wants, Gov. Wolf can help killers get the message that military bases are not easy targets. Bases should be the last place a killer would think of attacking. Letting some soldiers carry weapons is by far the cheapest and most logical way of keeping our military personnel safe.

• Lott is the president of the Crime Prevention Research Center and the author of "More Guns, Less Crime" (University of Chicago Press, 2010).

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