PENSACOLA, Fla. (WALA) – Last week’s shooting that claimed four lives and injured several others has renewed scrutiny of Pentagon policies that severely restrict the ability of military personnel to carry guns on bases.
The FBI has identified the shooter at Naval Air Station Pensacola as Mohammed Alshamrani, a second lieutenant in the Royal Saudi Air Force who was participating in a program that trains foreign service members.
Authorities say Alshamrani, who killed three people and wounded eight before a sheriff’s deputy shot him, fired his gun in a classroom where guns are prohibited.
It is one of more than 15 fatal shootings that have occurred at U.S. military facilities since 2009.
Alan Gottlieb, founder of the pro-gun Second Amendment Foundation, blamed the repeated gun attacks on gun-free policies.
“It really does not work,” he told FOX10 News. “Again, what they’ve done is they’ve made our military bases so-called gun-free zones. And all they’ve really become is victim-disarmament zones, and people have no means of defending themselves. And it just doesn’t work. It’s proven it hasn’t worked. It’s really kind of a stupid policy. And I hope Congress changes it.”
President Donald Trump also has criticized the policy in a past, both as a candidate for the White House and since taking office. At a speech last year before the Conservative Political Action Committee, he referenced a shooting at military recruiting center in Tennessee in 2015.
“They were a military base in a gun-free zone. They were asked to check their guns quite far away,” he said. “And a maniac walked in, guns blazing, killed all five of ’em. He wouldn’t have had a chance if these world-class marksmen had – on a military base – access to their guns, and I’m gonna look at that whole policy on military bases.”
The policy dates to 1992, when the administration of then-President George H.W. Bush limited who could be armed on U.S. military installations.
“The authorization to carry firearms shall be issued only to qualified personnel when there is a reasonable expectation that life or DoD assets will be jeopardized if firearms are not carried,” that directive stated.
Supporters of gun restrictions on bases express concern that introducing more guns could increase the risk of accidental shootings. They note that contrary to public perception, many military jobs do not require firearms expertise.
“In terms of carrying privately owned weapons on military bases, concealed, privately owned weapons, now that is not authorized That is a DOD policy,” then-Army Chief of Staff Mike Milley told the Senate Armed Services Committee in 2016. “I do not recommend that it be changed. We have adequate law enforcement on those bases to respond.”
Milley, who now is chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, testified at that hearing that security is best left to the military police. He told senators that within eight minutes of gunfire breaking out at Fort Hood, Texas, in 2014, military police officers had shot the assailant dead.
“So, that’s pretty quick. And a lot of people died in the process of that. But that was a very fast, evolving event,” he said. “And I am not convinced from what I know that carrying privately held weapons would have stopped that individual.”
But Gottlieb said eight minutes is way too long during an active-shooter situation. And he noted that it reportedly was the Escambia County Sheriff’s Office who stopped the Alshamrani at NAS last week.
“In this particular case in Pensacola, it appears that it took civilian law enforcement to come on base to solve the problem because the military police weren’t there or couldn’t get there in an adequate amount of time,” he said.
In November 2016, the Department of Defense loosened restrictions on guns, somewhat. The policy allows military personnel – on a case-by-case basis – to carry privately owned guns. It is unclear how many, if any, exemptions have been granted by authorities at NAS Pensacola.
In any case, Gottlieb argued, the measure did not go far enough.
“Unfortunately, most military bases still don’t have the open policy where you can have a firearm to protect yourself on your person on the base,” he said. “It’s changing. I have a feeling this Pensacola situation is going to open up a whole lot more base commanders saying, ‘Yes, you can have a firearm to protect yourself.’”
As president, Trump has the power to allow wider possession of guns on cases. Gottlieb said the president has been “very good on gun rights,” adding he hopes last week’s shooting in Pensacola prompts the White House to go further.
As for the impact of gun policies on shootings in public places, the record is mixed. A 2018 study by RAND Corp. found no conclusive evidence that gun-free policies at schools affects gun violence one way or the other.