News: CJ Exclusives

Memo from Commander Causes Uproar Among Gun-Owning Soldiers

Impact on Army personnel unclear

In March, the commander of the U.S. Army’s Charlie Company, 3rd Battalion, 187th Infantry Regiment stationed at Ft. Campbell, Ky., sent a memo ordering all soldiers in that company to provide a list of registration numbers and the location of any privately owned weapons they possessed. The commander also demanded to be informed whether the soldiers had a concealed carry permit and, if so, what state had issued the permit.

A soldier who objected to the order posted an e-mail with a copy of the memo to several firearm forums, warning that other units at Ft. Campbell were being ordered similarly to register their weapons and hinting at a broader effort to weaken our defenses and disarm the public at large.

Questions linger over whether this was truly a misinterpretation on the part of one company commander or whether the order would have extended to other units and installations but was quickly rescinded after the order became public.

Even before President Obama was elected, sales of firearms and ammunition had begun to surge nationwide over worries that more restrictions or outright bans on certain types of firearms and ammunition would ensue if Democrats were to regain the presidency and control of Congress.

Despite the recession, these sales continue to increase, with widespread shortages of many types of ammunition reported. Applications for concealed carry permits have surged as well.

As the Ft. Campbell e-mail circulated rapidly across the Internet, soldiers and civilians were outraged, concerned that this was indeed the first step in implementing gun registration that could expand eventually to private citizens.

Kelly Tyler, public affairs officer at Ft. Campbell, insisted in a recent phone interview that this incident was “not part of a global conspiracy to take guns away from military personnel and that, upon learning of it, General Townsend” — Ft. Campbell’s deputy commanding general — “immediately ordered the company commander to cease and desist.”

“It was unfortunate that this happened just before that intelligence assessment report was released,” Tyler said, because “it added to people’s fears of a conspiracy.” The report Tyler referenced was a declassified Department of Homeland Security report released on April 7, warning that “disgruntled military veterans” returning from Iraq and Afghanistan might be radicalized into terrorism by right-wing extremists.

Tyler expressed frustration that so many Web sites and bloggers had written about the gun registration memo without talking to her or other base spokespersons. In an effort to allay the public’s fears and end speculation, base officials submitted a copy of the soldier’s e-mail and the memo in question, along with an explanation, to Snopes.com, a Website that deals in rumors.

Isolated incident?

Asked why the company commander would issue such an order, Tyler said “the intent was to protect soldiers and their families. Lower-ranking soldiers train with and use M-4 carbines and other weapons in combat, but not handguns. There has been an uptick in suicides and accidental discharges from personal weapons as soldiers return from deployment. One soldier died as a result of an accidental discharge determined not to be suicide.”

Tyler explained that discussions about handgun training for soldiers to improve safety was “somehow misunderstood as it trickled down to the command level,” and the company commander simply exceeded his authority.

Still, critics wonder how an effort to protect soldiers and their families could be translated and executed in a manner as to infringe on military personnel’s Second Amendment rights.

Tyler said she did not know whether the company commander who issued the illegal order had been reprimanded or disciplined, nor did she say what steps were being taken to address safety concerns.

Ft. Campbell regulations require soldiers who reside in on-post government quarters to register their personal weapons, but they can store them at home, Tyler said. For soldiers residing off post, they do not have to register their personal firearms unless they wish to bring them on post to use at firing ranges.

“All soldiers and their families must comply with local and state regulations for gun ownership and concealed carry,” Tyler said.

The Pentagon did not respond to requests for both information about its firearms regulations for military personnel at all U.S. installations and a reaction to the soldiers’ claim that military personnel in other units at Ft. Campbell had been ordered to report on their private firearms stored off post.

Carolina Journal asked Jackie Thomas, a public affairs specialist at the U.S. Army’s installation at Ft. Bragg, whether any of its military units had received an order similar to the one at Ft. Campbell. “To our knowledge, no such order has been issued here,” Thomas said.

“Every army installation has its own regulations regarding firearms registration and concealed handgun permits,” Thomas added. She e-mailed a copy of Ft. Bragg’s regulations, which were similar to Ft. Campbell’s.

Ft. Bragg regulations stipulate: “Personnel must register privately owned firearms they have on post only if they are living/staying on post for more than five days. This requirement applies regardless of personnel category (military, family, guest, unaffiliated civilian, etc.) and regardless of which of the three authorized locations (family housing, unit arms room, or the PMO) is used for storage of the firearms.”

Personnel residing or staying off post are not required to register their privately owned firearms unless they store their firearms at an authorized location on post for more than five days. As for concealed carry, “concealed handgun permits are not recognized or valid on Fort Bragg.”

Exceptions to the concealed carry regulations are duly authorized law enforcement personnel or military personnel who are performing their official duties, such as special forces soldiers.

Karen McMahan is a contributor to Carolina Journal.