The United States Marine Corps announced Tuesday that it had authorized military police officers to bring their privately owned firearms onto bases, a rule change that senior officers said was hastened by fatal shootings at two Navy installations in the past month.
About 3,200 qualified law enforcement officers are eligible to arm themselves for their personal protection, but not in the performance of their official duties under the new rule, Captain Joseph Butterfield, a U.S.M.C. spokesman, said on Thursday. They are required to have a concealed carry permit for the firearms, The New York Times reported.
Prior to the rule change, only service weapons could be carried by members of the group — which includes military police, criminal investigators and civilian law enforcement officers who work for the Marines at some bases — solely as part of their duties.
The Marine Corps said in a memo that the new rule had already been in the works when the “tragic events” — a Dec. 4 shooting at Pearl Harbor Naval Shipyard and a Dec. 6 shooting at Naval Air Station in Pensacola, Fla. — convinced its leadership to accelerate the timetable.
“Those incidents did expedite the process,” Captain Butterfield said.
In the Pearl Harbor shooting, a United States sailor killed two shipyard workers and injured another before taking his own life. In Pensacola, a Saudi Air Force member armed with a handgun fatally shot three people and injured eight others during a bloody rampage in a classroom building.
The Department of Defense had been reviewing concealed carry rules for several years. In 2016, the Pentagon issued an “arming and use of force” directive that was intended to develop a concealed carry policy for base personnel. Last May, the secretary of the Navy followed through with the initiative and gave Navy and Marine Corps commanders the authority to grant concealed carry authorizations. The Marine Corps is part of the Navy.
It was not immediately clear if any other United States military branches were considering allowing base personnel to carry personal firearms, according to the Times report.
The Army, Navy, Air Force and Coast Guard did not immediately respond to requests for comment on Thursday night.
Law enforcement officers can carry concealed firearms at bases operated solely by the Marines, not joint military installations, the memo said.
Captain Butterfield said base commanders had some discretion over the concealed carry policy.
“They can’t make it easier,” he said, “but they can put more restrictions.”
In another military branch, at least one Air Force base has done just that.
At Offutt Air Force Base, which is near Omaha, Neb., Col. Gavin P. Marks, the 55th Wing commander, announced Monday that carrying privately owned firearms was no longer permitted, with few exceptions.
“This policy change comes as a result of the commander’s initial review of the Offutt AFB Integrated Defense and Antiterrorism Plan, a requirement to be completed within 120 days of assuming command,” the base said on its Facebook page.
This was not exactly a welcomed change at Offutt. One reader identified as Tim Donahoo responded:
This decision puts Offutt personnel in harm’s way and illustrates that the leadership does not trust their people. I thought it was amazing when the policy to allow firearms in vehicles was implemented. It showed courage and an actual understanding of the data. Letting law abiding citizens arm themselves saves lives and removes the soft/easy target that “gun free zones” create. Revoking the policy is indicative of the state of AF leadership, in general. I’m not surprised but very disappointed with the decision to disarm service members and make them defenseless, should another attack occur like the one at NAS Pensacola. The best thing about the policy was that I could have my firearm on me going To/From base. It was disappointing that I couldn’t also carry on base but at least I could be armed off base since I could keep it in my vehicle while at work. Now, I basically can’t exercise a Constitutionally protected right anytime I have to go to work. This violates the oaths taken to support and defend the Constitution. I hope they read these comments and reverse course immediately!