It certainly hasn’t taken Senator Daines and Representative Zinke long to try to score some cheap political points following the deaths of five American service members last week. Both, in the last day, have released press releases about proposed bills that would allow servicemen and women to carry guns at military installations largely without restrictions. In typical fashion, Representative Zinke claimed he was “introducing” the bill, even though Senator Daines and Duncan Hunter initially introduced it in each chamber.
Daines offered this fact-free, red meat explanation for his bill, which would undermine the authority of military commanders to set policies for their bases and substitute the judgment of members of Congress for that of experienced military officers:
The fastest way to stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun. It’s time to allow our men and women in uniform – including our military recruiters – to have all the resources they need to protect and defend themselves. It’s unfortunate that it took a tragedy like what happened in Tennessee to wake us up to the fact that there needs to be a policy change.
Facts are stubborn things, though. As the Navy Times notes, the Marines did return fire after they were attacked:
A report distributed among senior Navy leaders during the shooting’s aftermath said Lt. Cmdr. Timothy White, the support center’s commanding officer, used his personal firearm to engage Abdulazeez, Navy Times confirmed with four separate sources. A Navy official also confirmed a Washington Post report indicating one of the slain Marines may have been carrying a 9mm Glock and possibly returned fire on the gunman.
Even the broad premise of the proposed fixes isn’t based in truth, as Politifact notes, in this quote from a fellow at the conservative Heritage Foundation:
Steven Bucci, a military expert for the Heritage Foundation and former Army colonel, told PolitiFact that the policy about firearms existed for decades before Clinton, or Bush for that matter. “As far back as when I joined the military in 1973, and probably further back, you have never been able to carry firearms, privately owned or government, on military installations. You always had to register it with the MP’s and keep them locked in the arms rooms,” he said, referring to military police…. “No one ‘disarmed’ the military — the military itself prefers to manage good order and discipline by not having everyone armed.”
The military does not support changing the policy, which it implemented and then codified under the presidency of George H.W. Bush:
“DoD does not support arming all personnel. We hold this position for many reasons,” Army Lt. Col. Valerie Henderson, a Pentagon spokeswoman said Monday. Those reasons include safety concerns and the risk of accidental discharges, she said. Moreover, providing law enforcement-style training and qualification tests for additional parts of the force could be extraordinarily costly, she said.
What’s also left unsaid in the media coverage is the danger that guns present in any workplace. After a tragedy like this, conservatives are eager to score political points by suggesting that more guns will make workplaces safer, but the statistical reality is, of course, much different. Accidental shootings, increased suicides, workplace homicides and the like don’t get non-stop media coverage, so it’s easy to forget that for every imagined heroic life saving act by an armed person, there will be dozens more injuries and fatalities that are chalked up as the incidental cost of gun mania before being ignored.
Daines’s infantile suggestion that “the fastest way to stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun” demonstrates the absence of reason underlying these proposals. Life is not like a Hollywood western, and identifying the “bad guy” to shoot him is probably a bit more complex than it seems from behind the desk of a disconnected Senator. Especially when Republican policies have made it so easy for anyone to get a gun as easily as a piece of furniture online:
A friend’s claim that the man accused of opening fire last week on two military facilities in Tennessee bought powerful guns over the Internet has renewed attention to online firearm bazaars, a lightly regulated world where buyers and sellers can set up purchases without background checks.
So these proposals will actually make military bases less safe, undermine the authority of military commanders, misrepresent what really happened, and distort the reality of gun violence in America.
Of course, in a state almost devoid of critical press coverage, what Zinke and Daines are doing makes total sense. They’ll get a lot of positive, uncritical press attention for proposed bills that feel good, but won’t actually make anyone safer. They’ll score points with the radical gun lobby, who won’t be satisfied until every preschool teacher is required to pack heat. Perhaps most importantly, they’ll have another chance to demagogue a tragedy for political gain.