If we properly train and arm our military service personnel, they should not be prohibited from carrying firearms on military installations.
We can say it might have made a difference in the horrific shooting that left five dead at the U.S. Naval and Marine Corps Reserve Center off Amnicola Highway last Thursday, but we don't know for sure.
What we do know for sure is that the threat of such shootings or similar attacks at military-related facilities in the United States and abroad — whether or not they're inspired by foreign or domestic groups — is on the rise.
* Gov. Bill Haslam orders Tennessee officials to provide more protections for state National Guard following Chattanooga shooting
* Tennessee pauses as other states quickly arm Guardsmen in wake of Chattanooga attacks
In 2009, 13 people were killed and more than 30 injured in an attack at Fort Hood, Texas. That same year, one person was killed and one was injured in a drive-by shooting at a Little Rock, Ark., military recruiting office. In 2012, in an attack on several United States-related compounds in Benghazi, Libya, left four dead and 10 injured. In 2013, 12 were killed and three injured in a shooting at the Washington Navy Yard.
From what we know about last week's shooting, gunman Mohammad Youssef Abdulazeez sprayed the front of the Lee Highway recruiting center with bullets as he sat in his car. But, after crashing the gate at the reserve center, he exited his car and began shooting. Whether someone in the center with a gun could have stopped him before any loss of life will never be known.
Currently, federal law prohibits service members from carrying guns unless they're working in a security role or "when there is a reasonable expectation that life of Department of Defense assets will be jeopardized if firearms are not carried."
If nothing else, perhaps that policy could be tweaked to allow those who are on the front lines with the public at military facilities to be armed.
U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais, R-South Pittsburg, would go further. He introduced a bill in the House Monday that would allow properly trained service members to be armed on U.S. bases.
"Our men and women in uniform are owed the right to protect themselves and others while in service of our country," he said in a statement with the introduction of the Enhancing Safety at Military Installations Act. "While it is uncertain as to whether this legislation would have made an impact in this particular situation, it is clear that our military personnel have become targets, not just abroad, but on American soil as well. Therefore they must be given the tools to defend themselves."
U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann, R-Chattanooga, said in a meeting with Times Free Press editors and reporters Monday, that he had signed onto DeJarlais' bill and there would likely be others to allow armed service members more flexibility in carrying weapons. He said he also signed on earlier to an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act that would allow authorized members of the armed forces to carry a concealed personal firearm on a military installation.
"It may be," he said, "that the language is broad enough" to allow authorized persons to carry firearms at recruiting stations.
Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., chairman of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, said he would introduce a bill similar to DesJarlais'.
"By disarming the armed forces," he said in a news release, "gun-free policies at military facilities have made our men and women in uniform easy targets for terrorist attacks."
Governors of six states — Arkansas, Florida, Indiana, Louisiana, Oklahoma and Texas — over the weekend ordered changes in their National Guard operations that will include arming the guardsmen. Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam, meanwhile, ordered Tennessee Adjutant General Max Haston to "take appropriate steps to ensure the safety of [Tennessee] Guardsmen, citizens and property" and asked Tennessee Safety and Homeland Security Commissioner Bill Gibbons to determine the feasibility of issuing state handgun carry permits to "trained members of the military and to look for ways to streamline" the process.
Haslam explained he could not take more direct action because some of the state's armories or installations are co-located with U.S. military facilities, where the law forbids the guns being carried unless they're carried in a security role.
In Florida, Gov. Rick Scott also ordered all military recruiters to move to armories until the state can evaluate the situation and determine additional safety measures that might be installed.
Last Friday, Gen. Ray Odierno, chief of staff of the Army, said security at military recruiting and reserve centers would be reviewed, but he said it was too early to say if additional security was warranted. U.S. Secretary of Defense Ash Carter had asked for such a review and said it wanted it before the end of this week.
Recruiting offices must be in high-traffic areas where the action is. They can't be tucked away in military installations the public might not ever notice or drive by. That makes them potential targets, though, so personnel stationed there must be able be able to offer resistance to coordinated or lone-wolf attacks when perpetrators don't pay attention to the prominent "Gun Free Zone" signs.
It's not necessary to arm every service person every day at every unit, but attacks like last week's at least call for the need of stepped-up protection for the men and women who are expected to put their lives on the line for the country when called upon.