By Defense Department policy, no one was armed at the Marine Corps recruiting center on Lee Highway when Mohammad Youssef Abdulazeez began shooting into the building on July 16.
If Marine personnel had been armed, they might have stopped the gunman from leaving the scene and eventually killing five servicemen at the Navy Operational Support Center off Amnicola Highway.
In doing so, they also would have been protecting a young girl and two potential recruits who were in the building, according to new information from a Marine Corps investigation of the incident uncovered by the Marine Corps Times.
When the shooting began, mere feet from where he sat with the recruits, Lance Cpl. Christopher Gilliam, the most junior Marine in the office, yelled for those in earshot — which included the potential recruits with whom he was talking and Sgt. DeMonte Cheeley — to run.
Cheeley was wounded in the thigh from one of the 30 to 45 rounds, but all four men escaped out the back door, went down a hill and into a warehouse.
In his office, Gunnery Sgt. Camden Meyer immediately covered his young daughter with his body and yelled at Sgt. Winfield Thompson, also present, to get down until a break in the fire. When the shooter paused, Meyer scooped up his daughter, and he and Thompson ran out the back door to the hill behind the building.
Abdulazeez then drove to the Navy Operational Support Center. When the shooting started there, one of the soon-to-be-slain Marines, Staff Sgt. David Wyatt, ordered several service personnel to go the adjacent Tennessee Riverpark and protect the many children who were there.
Ironically, due to a bill passed in the Tennessee General Assembly earlier this year, legal gun carriers could have freely carried their firearms in the park, while those in the support center were supposed to be unarmed because of the Defense Department policy concerning weapons on federal property. It turned out both a Navy officer and a Marine fired their sidearms at Abdulazeez, but it was unclear why they had their guns.
Since the event, Marine leaders said they have ruled out arming recruiters since much of their job involves interaction with the public. That's unfortunate, though, since they are actually trained on how to use firearms and would be no more dangerous than a law enforcement officer who carries his gun when he stops for a hamburger at lunch or addresses a neighborhood watch group.
Since — right or wrong — many state legislatures are permitting lawful gun permit holders to have their guns in more and more places, and with the knowledge that unlawful carriers will have guns wherever they choose, it only makes sense for the Defense Department to reconsider its policy on arming recruiters so they might better protect the likes of the innocent people we now know were present on that fateful July day.