Commonsense Gun Control, the U.S. Army Way
For nearly the past eight months, I have served as the U.S. Army’s primary Physical Security Manager for 4th Squadron, 2nd Cavalry Regiment in Germany. One of my chief responsibilities in this role is to conduct inspections on my unit’s arms rooms, which serve as storage facilities for military-grade assault rifles, machine guns and other equipment. To pass the inspection, the storage facility must comply with a strict set of standards. Furthermore, the person charged with issuing weapons, as well as the end user, must meet a comprehensive set of criteria.
In my lifetime, incidents of gun violence in the U.S. have progressed from rare anomalies to seemingly everyday occurrences. Over the past week, the attack on Sunday in Dayton, Ohio, the atrocious massacre in El Paso, Texas on Saturday, Tuesday’s shooting at a Mississippi Walmart, and the Gilroy Garlic Festival shooting in California last weekend have left 36 Americans dead and nearly 70 injured. These tragic events, unfortunately, add to the growing tally of more than 250 mass shootings in the U.S. this year alone, according to the nonprofit research group Gun Violence Archive, which defines a mass shooting as an incident in which four or more people are shot, not counting the perpetrator, in roughly the same place at the same time. That is more than one a day.
Prior to joining the military, I often wondered: What if there were a way to put military-grade restrictions on military-grade assault rifles? And, if so, would the restrictions actually reduce gun violence? Spoiler alert: there is, and they do. Preventing improper storage and the civilian use of military-grade weapons is straightforward: We must thoroughly examine situations in which they are properly stored and employed.
The weapons storage facilities in my squadron each consist of one small room that contains approximately 50 to 100 M4 assault rifles along with other weapons and equipment. The facilities are equipped with a motion-sensor intruder detection system, a General Services Administration-approved vault door and a high-security lock that provides resistance to physical attacks and even protects against liquid nitrogen exposure. Failure to meet those standards is unacceptable; in the event of a breach in established security protocol or established security requirements, the unit is held liable and ceases operations until the deficiencies are corrected.
Conversely, in the civilian world, very few Americans who own firearms comply with standards anywhere close to those of a military-grade arms room. This is also unacceptable. Yet in many states, firearm owners are not held liable for crimes that occur as a result of improper weapon storage. In short, U.S. civilian firearm policy should follow the military’s example of consolidated weapons storage facilities with multi-layered security measures to avoid weapons falling into improper hands.
Each of the six weapons storage facilities in my unit is managed by an “armorer”—a soldier charged with maintaining the facility and issuing weapons to soldiers. To serve as the facility “armorer,” the soldier must conduct a security screening that is signed by his or her unit commander, security clearance manager, medical provider, provost marshal and non-military local law enforcement. All of these checks ensure that the person is reliable and will not abuse his or her privilege. Although a great amount of confidence is placed in the “armorer,” that soldier does not maintain the keys to the weapons facility. Instead, the keys are maintained, inventoried, locked and kept under 24-hour surveillance by an independent entity. That entity only issues the keys to the “armorer.” Comparatively, the keys to access locked firearms in a private residence are rarely, if ever, constantly watched. Independent, trustworthy weapons issuers, sellers, distributors and key guards would prevent unauthorized access to deadly assault rifles.
Nearly 600 soldiers in my squadron have access to military-grade assault rifles. Many of these personnel are soldiers who undergo a strict background check. After a substantial review period, many obtain a valid security clearance, and thus are entrusted with our nation’s most sensitive information. In other words, a security clearance is an intangible badge of significant and considerable trust.
However, even the immense trust granted to those soldiers does not extend to their handling of a military-grade assault rifle. No soldiers are permitted to store their assigned assault rifle at their personal residence, nor do they have permission to transport their weapon in a personal vehicle. Soldiers are also limited to possessing one rifle at any given moment for a training exercise. What’s more, even the most reliable soldiers must specify to the weapon issuer what is the intended reason for, and duration of, their weapon use.
The military established these important guidelines for soldiers because military-grade assault rifles are killing machines. Yet everyday Americans with a less thorough background check, or even none at all, are held to a lesser standard than our nation’s trusted military personnel. Firearm policy solutions must target and resolve this paradox.
While strict, U.S. Army weapons storage regulations are clear, easily understood, efficiently implemented, multi-layered and enforceable. The U.S. Army is a standard-bearer of safe firearm policy. Ironic, isn’t it, that conservative gun rights advocates tend to be reflexively pro-military but would never agree to the application of any of that same military’s gun-safety standards? Consider it hypocrisy of the highest order.
U.S. Army practices show that strictly regulated weapons facilities, access to firearms and training for assault rifles directly promote proper and safe firearm use. “Heavy hearts” and “thoughts and prayers” are not enough for family and friends who have lost loved ones to gun violence, and we should not continue to pretend that they are. If the U.S. Army is consolidating the storage of military-grade weapons and requiring strict background checks for those personnel issuing and receiving such weapons, why doesn’t the government adopt the same policy guidelines for civilians?
One last spoiler alert: It should.
The views expressed are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of the United States Army, Department of the Army or Department of Defense.Wait, before you go…
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