With news that another shooting tragedy has hit Ft. Hood, my heart is breaking for the families of those who were wounded and killed by a gunman who is said to have purchased a gun, off-base, brought it on to the base, and unleashed carnage. While many details are still unknown, it is too early to talk about what may have triggered this incident and what, specifically, could have stopped it. However, there are three broad points to keep in mind as news unfolds.
1) The military has more restrictive gun laws than the civilian world. It is the civilian world that is infringing on the military's safety, not the other way around. By this, I mean that on military bases, no one can carry around a personal firearm, a regulation instituted under President George H.W. Bush. At Ft. Hood, specifically, personal firearms for those living on base must be registered with the Directorate of Emergency Services, and if you are living in barracks or temporary housing, they then must be reported to your commander, who can order them to be stored in the arms room.
In the civilian world, as is well known, there are plenty of loopholes in the law, and expired laws, like the Assault Weapons Ban. This allows someone to purchase a gun off base, bring it on base, and unleash carnage. The tougher it is to get a gun in the civilian world, the less likely someone could get one and bring them on base, to murder service members. This doesn't even get into the "Terror Gap," which has kept suspected terrorists from being flagged in a background check, allowing them to buy weapons to use against troops, and others.
2) The military handles mental illness and weapons more strongly than the civilian world. The alleged gunman at Ft. Hood, Ivan Lopez, was being treated for anxiety and depression. In the military, if it was believed that made him not stable enough to handle a weapon, they would have barred him from doing so, or even handling certain jobs. That's a result of being treated by military doctors and their ability to report up any issues. Additionally, as General Peter Chiarelli argued against the NRA a few years ago, military commanders are allowed to, and need to know if their men and women own a firearm that they keep at off-base home, specifically to know if someone who seems suicidal may have a firearm, and take appropriate action.
In the civilian world, there is doctor-patient privilege, and unless you are adjudicated for an issue of mental illness, which becomes public record, mental illness will not show up on a background check. This is an extremely sensitive issue -- and the last thing we want to do is stigmatize anyone who suffers from mental illness. But, the issue must be examined, bringing in all sorts of people and groups, especially mental health professionals and advocacy groups.
3) Those with ID freely can come and go on bases, and maybe that should change. The point where the civilian world and military world meet is at the gate of the base. Currently, those who have ID can move quickly past security. In each of the recent cases of uniformed members shooting on base, they brought a weapon from off-base.
The Department of Defense would be wise to do a feasibility study on whether we could search all people coming into base, especially if civilian laws don't get much stronger on guns. It may cost us a ton of money to conduct such searches, but until the civilian world figures out its issue with easy access to guns, protecting our troops would be worth every cent.
In the end, we'll soon know all the details about this latest tragic shooting, and may know more about Ivan Lopez's situation. But, generally speaking, until civilian law matches military law on guns, we unfortunately must brace ourselves for the possibility of more of these tragedies.