NASHVILLE — U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais, R-Tenn., says his bill overturning a 1992 Department of Defense directive barring most service members from carrying firearms at U.S. facilities is necessary because a new directive reportedly issued by a top Pentagon official doesn't go far enough.
Sen. Mike Bell, R-Riceville, meanwhile, has filed a resolution calling for federal action to end gun-free zones at military facilities. Bell drafted the resolution in the wake of the Chattanooga attack.
“We cannot in good conscience send young men and women abroad to fight our enemy only to disarm them when they serve here at home,” Bell said in a news release. Tennessee’s congressional delegation on Monday introduced legislation that would lift the federal ban on guns at recruiting centers and other military installations.
"I think that it does fall short," the South Pittsburg congressman said Monday after he and Rep. Steve Cohen, D-Memphis, introduced legislation. "From what I've heard they're basically taking steps to enhance security, doing things such as closing the blinds."
"What we really need is to have military personnel who are trained to use appropriate military-issue weapons be put into a position where they can defend themselves in an instance of attacks like we saw in Chattanooga," he said.
DesJarlais and Cohen's bill is a response to the attack by 24-year-old Mohammad Youssef Abdulazeez that killed four Marines and a Navy petty officer Thursday.
The Wall Street Journal, NBC and other news organizations reported Monday that Adm. Bill Gortney, head of the U.S. Northern Command that oversees security for U.S.-based military facilities, issued the new directive Sunday night.
It calls on recruiting centers to implement minor new security measures, such as lowering blinds, while the Defense Department weighs more substantial ways to address threats to the facilities, officials said.
The bipartisan DesJarlais-Cohen bill goes much further, requiring the Department of Defense issue a new directive within 30 days determining which trained personnel should be allowed to carry military-issue weapons to qualified, trained personnel at facilities. Recruiting centers are usually staffed by the military's "best and brightest and certainly would be qualified personnel," DesJarlais said.
But he added the department "would still have a say in directing what would be appropriate." For example, he said, service members wouldn't necessarily need to be armed on obstacle courses.
In addition to DesJarlais and Cohen's co-introducing the measure, the state's seven other congressman have signed onto the bill, among them U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann, R-Tenn.
During a meeting with Times Free Press editors and reporters on Monday, Fleischmann praised DesJarlais' effort. But he also said an amendment in the National Defense Authorization Act, which already has cleared the House and is being discussed in the Senate, will help arm domestic bases.
"It allows base commanders to have the authority to allow military personnel to use their own personal weapons and be armed. It may be broad enough to encompass other areas, such as recruitment centers," said Fleischmann, who is from Chattanooga.
But even without legislation, Fleischmann says the Department of Defense could simply lift its own directive and allow soldiers at domestic bases to carry weapons. Whatever Congress does, Fleischmann said it should keep military leadership tightly in the loop.
The issue of service members' security at American-based facilities is having a ripple effect on state National Guards with governors in at least seven states having already taken steps. Tennessee Republican Gov. Bill Haslam announced over the weekend he has directed top officials with the Tennessee National Guard and the state Department of Safety and Homeland Security to outline specific steps to protect state guard members.
Other states on Monday continued to announce changes. Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson of Arkansas is temporarily closing the state's nine storefront National Guard recruitment centers as officials review their security, The Associated Press reported. Iowa's governor has ordered a review and in Missouri, Republicans are calling on Gov. Jay Nixon, a Democrat, to act.
Louie Brogdon contributed to this report.
Contact Andy Sher at firstname.lastname@example.org or 615-255-0550.