The Carrying of Firearms by members of the Armed Forces

150711-N-FQ994-101 MEDITERRANEAN SEA (July 11, 2015) U.S. Navy Midshipman Kenneth Levens participates in a small arms gun shoot aboard the guided-missile destroyer USS Ross (DDG 71). Ross is conducting naval operations in the U.S. 6th Fleet area of operations in support of U.S. national security interests in Europe. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Robert S. Price/Released).

Members of the U.S. military don't routinely carry guns when they are not in combat or on military bases. And the military (read:  Pentagon) is sensitive to any appearance of armed troops within the United States – for an example of perhaps why it is so sensitive, read just about any article on Jade Helm, and the reactions of the citizenry.

But now there’s an uproar - prompted by the attack on military recruiting stations in Chattanooga, Tennessee, more and more people are clamoring for military recruiters (at least) to carry a weapon.

  In fact, as I write this, at least six State Governors ordered National Guardsmen to be armed – and Florida relocated recruiters to armories.  Add to the matter one Representative Duncan Hunter – who plans to introduce legislation as early as Friday that would either allow troops manning recruiting stations to carry weapons, or mandate other military security arrangements for those facilities.

This isn’t the first time a recruiting office has been attacked - they've been targets for well over 50 years... likely because it’s widely known that recruiters are unarmed. 

It was during the Vietnam War that military recruiting centers were first targeted , and since Sept. 11, 2001, military recruitment centers have primarily been targeted by Islamist terrorists.

So, why aren’t military recruiters armed in the course of their duties?

The “ban” on military recruiters carrying a weapon is said to be based partially on the Possee Comitatus Act of 1878 - Section 1385 of Title 18, United States Code (USC) - which limits the powers of the federal government in using its military personnel to act as domestic law enforcement personnel.

Side note:  The Act only specifically applies to the Army and, as amended in 1956, the Air Force. Even so, while the Act does not explicitly mention the Navy and the Marine Corps, the Department of the Navy has regulations that are generally construed to give the Act force with respect to those services as well (likely driven by 10 U.S. Code § 375 - Restriction on direct participation by military personnel).

The Act does not apply to the National Guard under state authority from acting in a law enforcement capacity within its home state or in an adjacent state if invited by that state's governor. The United States Coast Guard, which operates under the Department of Homeland Security, is also not covered by the Posse Comitatus Act, primarily because it has both a maritime law enforcement mission and a federal regulatory agency mission – even though the Coast Guard is an armed service.

Back to the ban on arming military recruiters.

Whether or not military personnel (recruiters or others) can be armed is covered mostly by Department of Defense (DoD) Directive 5210.56, wherein policy states “Arming DoD personnel with firearms shall be limited and controlled.”

The instruction goes more in depth (of course), with references to such directives as DoD Directive 3000.3, “Policy for Non-Lethal Weapons” and discusses Suitability and Screening.

Here’s a bit of irony, I think – just as there’s this push to portray military recruiters as highly trained, model troops who can be trusted as responsible weapons experts – in Gainesville, Atlanta, a recruiter accidently shot himself in the leg with his personal .45-caliber pistol while discussing the Tennessee shootings with one of his recruits.

Military officials may well be correct in saying the Pentagon shouldn't rush to change the ban because arming troops in those facilities could cause more problems than it might solve.

Find Your Next Job

Job Search by