A Marine Veteran Offers 13 Reasons Why We Should NOT Arm Military Recruiters
The recent shooting of a military recruiting office and a naval reserve center in Chattanooga, Tennessee has raised questions about the vulnerability of military service members and their exposure to attacks on American soil. In response to this latest terrorist action, a number of lawmakers are calling for allowing troops serving at military facilities and recruiting offices to be armed. For example, Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.), a Marine Corps veteran, said last week that he plans to introduce legislation that would allow military recruiters to carry weapons.
“Until we get our hands wrapped around this, we have to allow the people who represent the United States military to defend themselves, at the least,” Hunter said in a statement.
Although they are being treated as a single issue, the question of whether military recruiters should be armed and whether officers and enlisted should have access to weapons on military bases are two separate and distinct concerns. The firearms on base issue is part of a larger question about what constitutes adequate security on military bases. At a minimum, individual commanders at military installations should be able to determine which personnel are authorized to carry personal firearms. But it is my firm belief, shared by many others in the military, that military recruiters should not be required to carry firearms and should only be allowed to be armed in rare and unique circumstances.
I am a sixteen-year veteran of the Marines, a strong proponent of an individual’s right to keep and bear arms, and an unabashed apologist for the moral and legal right of individual self-defense. However, I am also a realist, and the reality is that requiring recruiters to wear sidearms would make their lives miserable without making them measurably safer.
I served on recruiting duty in southwestern Washington State from 1995 to 1998. They told us in recruiter’s school that recruiting duty was, outside of combat, the most stressful job in the Marine Corps. Yet I believe, and have absolutely no doubt, that having recruiters carry sidearms would simply make the job even more difficult.
Arguments based on personal experience are always limited in usefulness, of course. And my anecdotal experience is even more constrained because I’ve only served in one of the four branches that would be affected by a change in policy. But I think that by increasing the understanding of what military recruiters actually do on a daily basis, it will make it easier to see why the situation is more complicated than it may initially appear. I also believe that many, if not most, experienced military recruiters would agree with me about the drawbacks far outweighing any potential safety benefits.
Here are 13 reasons why I think arming recruiters would be counterproductive:
- Why not allow recruiters to carry a concealed handgun? This is the most obvious and reasonable question many people have and the primary objection to my reasons why not to arm recruiters. I could write an article simply addressing this point, but my main rebuttal would be uniforms and uniformity. First, at least for the Marines, there is no place on the uniform to carry a concealed weapon. Take a look at the types of uniforms that Marine recruiters wear. Notice that the close-fitting uniforms do not allow concealment of either the standard issue service pistols (Beretta M9, Sig Sauer M11) or even smaller weapons. Then there is the issue of uniformity. As with most things in the military, there is a uniformity of policy that is expected to cover all situations. Even if we only allowed a few recruiters to carry a weapon (not a likely option, and one that doesn’t really address the perceived problem) the public perception would be that all recruiters are armed at all times. Recruiters are not public officials, but they are government representatives and would be subject to a level of scrutiny that most people with a concealed carry permit would not face. The result would be that in every engagement with civilians, recruiters would have to clarify whether they are armed — and may even have to prove it. This would largely undermine the intent of arming recruiters and cause numerous other problems (see below).
- Unless you have a reason to be in the office (e.g., you’re interviewing a prospect), a recruiter is expected to be out in the “field.” On a typical day I’d have to visit/canvas a high school, a shopping mall, two grocery stores, and make 2-5 home visits. Guess where you usually can’t take a loaded weapon? High schools, shopping malls, grocery stores and to people’s homes who aren’t comfortable with you trying to “steal” their precious child and send them off to war.
- The vast majority of young men and women I encountered were intimidated or otherwise uncomfortable having a grown man in a uniform approaching them for a personal chat. I can just imagine how they might react to someone in uniform who is armed and rushing toward them to get their name and phone number. Most kids wouldn’t be able to distinguish between a military recruiter and a police officer, so the reaction would likely be similar to having a cop randomly approach them and asking intimate details about their life.
- You know who isn’t intimated by a grown man in a uniform carrying a firearm? Annoying kids. Having to say, “No, you can’t touch my weapon” dozens of times a day would be a major annoyance.
- Even while armed, a recruiter would be exposed to an ambush-style attack since the typical recruiting office is in a strip mall with large glass windows. I had a corner desk in a corner office with floor to ceiling glass windows facing a busy main thoroughfare. I provided a superb target for anyone interested in learning the art of risk-free, drive-by shooting. At least once a week, for 36 months, my fellow recruiters would tell me (joking, mostly) that I needed to move away from the windows because someone was angry with me and was going to shoot me in the back while I sat at my desk.
- In addition to the main office, I also had a satellite office next to a food court inside a shopping mall. That mall, which didn’t let their own security guards carry weapons, would rather have refused to lease us office space than allow us to be armed.
- My territory covered hundreds of square miles of southwest Washington State, from Olympia down to Longview, Aberdeen to Onalaska, and down to Ilwaco (and I had to go to Seattle several times a week). On a typical day I would be driving for 2-10 hours. If I had a weapon I’d either have to lock it somewhere in my government vehicle (thus rendering me unarmed and vulnerable) or wear it while driving for long periods of time, often with a stranger in the seat next to me nearest to my weapon.
- An inordinate number of civilians are eager to initiate altercations with recruiters. Most of the would-be assailants I encountered were wannabe tough guys wanting to impress a girl or their friends. The encounters usually involved verbal exchanges or putting their hands on us menacingly. In regular life, I could simply de-escalate the situation and walk away. But when you’re a walking billboard for an American ideal of a warrior, that’s not much of an option: You have a professional duty to put on a stoic, “take-no-slight” front, even if the guy hassling you is 6’4” and 250 pounds and can stomp you into the ground.
- Now imagine if I was carrying a sidearm. In most cases, it might have caused people to back off. But for others, it would have been viewed as a challenge to see if they could take my weapon away. We see this happen already to police officers with alarming frequency. Military recruiters would provide an even more enticing target since men and women in uniform represent “authority” but don’t have the power to send the assailant to jail.
- Related to the point above, when you are carrying a sidearm in public you have to be constantly on guard to avoid someone taking it away from you. Recruiters already have enough things to focus on without wondering if someone is going to sneak up behind them and steal their 9mm.
- As we’ve seen over the past year, armed confrontations with police officers quickly turn into national scandals when a person in uniform with a weapon confronts — however justly and with warrant — an unarmed civilian. If a single recruiter on duty were to kill an unarmed civilian, it could have a catastrophic effect on both military-civilian relations and on military recruiting. For that reason alone, the change in policy is misguided.
- A near consensus is forming in America that police officers should be wearing body cameras because of incidents involving civilians. Do the people who support arming recruiters also want them to wear body cameras, too? How might that affect their ability to do their jobs?
- But what about simply having a weapon available in the recruiting office? Recruiters cannot possibly keep armed weapons — unlocked and accessible — in an office in a strip mall that is constantly being invaded by teenage boys (and various shady characters). The only plausible option would be to have them locked away and semi-accessible (e.g., by fingerprint or RFID tag). I’m not as opposed to this idea as many recruiters would be. But I also do not think it would have any real impact on recruiter safety. At best it would give the illusion of safety, similar to “security theater” that many attributed to the Transportation Safety Administration’s (TSA) airport screening.
There are reasonable measures that could be taken to increase security at recruiting offices. Adding bullet-resistant glass, which protected the Marine office in Chattanooga, would be a prime example of a logical first step. Where appropriate we should take such steps to protect military recruiters. But we also have to simply acknowledge that not all risks can be eliminated. The men and women in the U.S. military understand their job comes with risk, and they are willing to face danger.