No firearms for Guard

July 22, 2015

By Mike Savino
Journal Inquirer | Posted: Wednesday, July 22, 2015 11:35 am

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy does not intend to change the state’s policy against arming members of the Connecticut National Guard while on state Military Department property, a spokesman said this week.

The issue has drawn debate nationwide following last week’s murder of four Marines and a sailor in Chattanooga, Tennessee, and has caused a disagreement among senior officials within the Army.

At least seven governors, all Republicans, have said they plan to change their states’ policies, and people around the country have armed themselves and stood guard outside recruiting centers.

Opponents, though, say the reaction increases risks to public safety, including possible accidental discharges, without weighing the pros and cons.

A spokesman for Malloy, Devon Puglia, said the incident in Chattanooga “was a tragedy and right now our thoughts are with the victims and their families. The governor doesn’t believe that this is the best way to address the situation.”

Beyond prohibiting members of the National Guard from carrying firearms at state military procedures, Puglia and Military Department spokesman Capt. Michael T. Petersen both declined to discuss the specifics of Connecticut’s policies and security measures.

The policy models the one used by the U.S. Department of Defense, drawing a debate in recent days from senior Army officials.

Gen. Mark Milley, nominated to be the next Army chief of staff, said during a U.S. Senate hearing that he supports arming soldiers at recruiting stations if legal issues could be resolved, the Associated Press reports. Federal law prohibits the use of the military for domestic law enforcement, for example.

Outgoing Chief of Staff Gen. Ray Odierno, however, said politicians and officials need to weigh potential problems, including concerns about accidental discharges and other safety concerns stemming from more people carrying loaded weapons, the AP also reports.

Critics have raised concerns that arming soldiers could lead to other residents seeing them as more threatening, and have said that recruiting centers in particular are supposed to appear open and inviting, according to the AP.

Locally, gun control advocates agree with the concerns that Odierno raised.

“I don’t think we really want to turn the country into an armed camp,” said Connecticut Against Gun Violence Executive Director Ron Pinciaro.

He also said the policy has long been used by military officials, “who know what guns are for,” and he questioned the sudden push to change it.

Pinciaro said officials should instead seek to keep firearms out of the hands of dangerous people.

Veterans, though, said last Thursday’s attack shows that soldiers based in the U.S. are increasingly becoming targets for terrorists.

Authorities say that Muhammad Yousef Abdulazeez, of Houston, Texas, acted as a “lone wolf,” but some, including many veterans, have raised concerns that the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria and other extremist groups are encouraging such attacks.

Experts have said that IS has been able to recruit globally because of its heavy use of Twitter and other social media forums.

State American Legion Senior Vice Commander Paul Spedaliere raised concerns that areas of the country with larger pockets of Muslims, particularly the Midwest, could be susceptible to copycat attacks.

He said Malloy should at least consider increasing security if he’s not going to allow members of the National Guard to carry their own firearms.

“Given the current state that we’re in as a nation, if they’re not going to allow (guardsmen) to carry their personal weapons on the base or the facility, they should at least” increase security, he said.

Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo, a Democrat, has asked for a review of the safety and security procedures at that state’s National Guard centers, the Associated Press reports. That review will include considering whether to arm guardsmen.

Connecticut state Rep. Timothy Ackert, R-Coventry, who served in the Air Force during the Vietnam War, said that military personnel have “now become a target here stateside” and thinks the legislature should talk about ways to protect them.

Other area lawmakers with military service agreed.

“We need to do something,” said Sen. Tony Guglielmo, R-Stafford, who added that military members have become “sitting ducks” because they are easily identified when they are in uniform or at military facilities. Guglielmo was in the Army from 1962-68.

Both legislators said they want officials to discuss the pros and cons, though, before making any policy changes.

Rep. David Alexander, D-Enfield, said lawmakers need to consider the training each military member has, including whether they are sufficiently trained in handguns or just other types of weaponry, before allowing them to arm themselves.

But he also agreed that lawmakers should talk about ways to protect the National Guard.

“This is a conversation worth having,” said Alexander, who served four years of active duty in the U.S. Marines and is a reserve captain for the 1st Battalion of the 25th Marines based at Fort Devens, Massachusetts.

Nationwide, some have decided to take action themselves by standing as armed guards outside the offices of recruiters, which are typically located in shopping areas.

The AP reports that the founder and president of Oath Keepers, a Las Vegas-based group composed of current and former veterans and first responders, called on its members to guard centers.

Various media outlets have reported sighting of people doing just that around the country.

While they didn’t talk about specific policy, both Puglia and Petersen said the governor and Military Department are reviewing procedures to make sure all personnel are safe.

“Our security personnel are constantly monitoring and reviewing our force protection for adequacy against known and perceived threats,” Petersen said.