It has been reported that 12 people were killed yesterday, in the Washington Navy Yard, by a civilian shooter (a contract employee with post access, apparently previously discharged from the Navy for disciplinary reasons), firing civilian weapons (most likely obtained illegally, as he had a criminal record which should have been disqualifying).
All details of the incident are not yet available, but I believe that is a substantially accurate statement.
I believe this is the fourth multiple casualty shooter incident at a U.S. Military facility outside of zones of hostile activity (not in a theater of combat operations), in the last 5 years.
There is a notion (and numerous memes) currently circulating in the blogsophere and on facebook, and which I believe is certainly true; that the reason 12 people were shot and not 1 or 2, is that U.S. servicemembers on duty outside of zones of actual hostile activity (and even sometimes within them), are, with a few exceptions, barred from carrying weapons for self defense while on duty.
In fact, as difficult as it may be for the general public to believe... the majority of U.S. military facilities, the majority of the time, are actually as much "gun free zones" as any federal court house.
Often the only firearms in the entire facility are those of the civilian contract guards; and sadly, that's not a joke or an exaggeration. Many military facilities around this country and around the world are guarded by rent-a-cops, not servicemembers.
I am absolutely certain, that if all servicemembers were required to maintain a high degree of proficiency in personal defensive small arms use, and were issued and carried on a day to day basis a defensive weapon (much as almost all serving law enforcement officers in this country); that such incidents would be reduced, and that when they occurred the casualty count would be lower.
I also fully and firmly believe that such incidents will only increase over time.
Soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines, officers and enlisted, regardless of duty station or speciality; should have the skills and equipment to defend themselves, any time, any place, full stop.
This is especially true now that we are in the age of asymmetric warfare, publicity seeking "terrorism", and just plain fame killers and nutjobs.
Unfortunately... There are lots of folks who don't seem to understand that factual inaccuracies and fallacious arguments HURT their cause, not help it...
Thus we get graphics like this:
That is simply untrue. Oh, yes, servicemembers were largely disarmed under Clinton, and thus it isn't a complete lie... but they were also largely disarmed under every previous president of the 20th century.
This is a matter of military policy, not gun control policy.
Throughout most of the 20th century, with a few exceptions (certain special duty postings for example) it has been the general policy of all branches of the U.S. military; that only those actually on guard duty, in military law enforcement or security forces (and often only those posted on guard duty), or actually engaged in small arms training; have small arms on their person while on duty in the United States (and in most foreign facilities, most of the time).
Most servicemembers don't carry guns most of the time... and haven't for over a century; as a matter of military policy.
A facility commander may, with the approval of their higher command, allow routine small arms issue and carry while on duty (at least on the facility. There are some potential local legal issues off the facility depending on the local laws). In fact, a facility commander may even allow the concealed carry of personally owned weapons to those properly certified and otherwise lawfully allowed to do so.
They just generally choose not to.
Actually, most of the time, most commands, forbid concealed carry while on duty or on their facilities; even to those servicemembers who would otherwise lawfully be allowed to do so.
The fact is, most commanders don't trust most servicemembers with guns.
In general, small arms are tightly controlled in the U.S. military; checked out of an armory shortly before they are to be used, and then checked back in shortly after they have been used and given proper maintenance (at least in theory).
Frankly, most servicemembers aren't very good with small arms. Even those who, in theory, actually shoot small arms regularly as part of their duties (and that is less than 10% of the military), often aren't particularly good with them. Nor are they particularly well trained with them, or if reasonably well trained, kept to a high level of currency and proficiency.
This is especially true of handguns. Handgunning is a far more difficult skill than basic riflery, and requires much more practice, more frequently, to maintain proficiency.
The vast majority of servicemembers (even those in combat arms) will fire a handgun for familiarization during training; and then either never again, or at most, at long intervals (anywhere from 6 months to two years). This often includes those who, in theory, carry a handgun as part of their duty (infantry officers, armored vehicle crewmembers, aircrew members etc...).
As a whole, outside of special operations and security forces, the U.S. military doesn't do much with handguns. Lots of servicemembers are issued handguns, but very few actually shoot them very much (I would say less than 5%).
Unfortunately, when large numbers of servicemembers who are relatively untrained, and relatively uncomfortable with small arms, end up being issued them (and live ammo); this lack of training and proficiency leads to... issues.
In particular, and the reason why commanders are so reluctant to allow regular carry of small arms; it leads to lost and stolen weapons or ammo, and negligent discharges.
Commanders are held responsible for these incidents (particularly if the injury of a third party is involved), and therefore are extremely reluctant to trust PFC Somedude, whose normal duty is driving a forklift in a quartermasters warehouse; with an M9 and two loaded magazines.
If you want to make long serving officers and non-coms cringe in terror, tell them "we're issuing EVERYONE small arms and live ammo"; because they KNOW for a certainty, that some idiot is going to shoot his toe off, and some other idiot is going to lose his weapon.
There's two solutions to that problem.
The first, is to maintain very high standards of small arms training and proficiency; and to downcheck anyone who can't meet them, or who has a safety problem in handling their small arms.
In general, this is the right way to do it...
Unfortunately, it's expensive, it's time consuming, there are just a lot more more problems, carrying firearms all the time is inconvenient (particularly the standard U.S. Military sidearm, the Beretta M9, which is why those whose duty regularly includes carrying a handgun for self protection - security forces, CID agents etc... - are often authorized carry of a smaller weapon such as the M11 - basically the SIG P226); and no matter what you do or how well you train them there will always be a few idiots who will lose their weapons, or shoot their toes off.
Worse, if you downcheck good people who are just bad with guns, when their duty never involves touching guns; you lose that good person (at whatever they do), for "no good reason". After all, they also serve who file and collate, and 80% of servicemembers never go anywhere near small arms as part of their duty.
I know plenty of great servicemembers, who are horrible with small arms. Even guys who shoot BIG guns for a living... but don't necessarily do so well with little ones (pilots, tankers, and artillerymen are not generally noted for their small arms proficiency).
The other way of doing it, is disarming everyone unless they are actually going to use a weapon. Fewer people with guns, for less time, means less chances for weapons to be lost, and less chances for idiots to shoot themselves.
But it also means that our servicemembers are without effective means to defend themselves when someone decides they'd like to kill some soldiers.
My personal belief, is that we should accept the costs and difficulties in universal personal weapon issue and routine carriage for self defense. If you're a servicemember, no matter what your duty, you should be able to effectively defend yourself while on duty.
And that's what we should be advocating for. That's a military policy change, not a political one.
Claiming otherwise hurts us. Lying hurts us. Making inaccurate claims hurts us. It doesn't help.
It's a bad policy that gets people killed, and as time goes on will get more people killed. There's no need to make factually incorrect claims, or associate the policy with undesirable people, in order to make it seem worse than it is.