Pentagon & Congress

Congress is pressuring the Pentagon to let more troops carry guns on base

A gun debate within the U.S. military: an explainer

The Pentagon has vowed to protect its most vulnerable troops and facilities in the wake of July's deadly shooting in Chattanooga. But lawmakers and military leaders are at odds over how best to do that.

Irritated by the Pentagon's failure to establish House lawmakers angry about overdue rules authorizing more military personnel to on carrying personal rivate firearms while on duty military bases, House lawmakers have on Wednesday threatened to withhold funding back defense funds next year if the Defense Department doesn't officials don’t finalize a plan soon.

And they want to make it easier for military spouses to buy a gun too.

On Wednesday In a pair of voice votes, members of the House Armed Services Committee added language to their draft of the annual defense authorization bill that would to withhold 15 percent of the defense secretary’s policy funding if the firearms policy isn’t finalized by the end of this year. Lawmakers also want to and eased background-check requirements for military spouses who move across state lines for a permanent change of station.

Both proposals were introduced by Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Calif., who called them matters of basic safety and fairness for troops looking to exercise their Second Amendment rights.

"These are lives," he said. "These are soldiers' lives, sailors and Marines."

ILast year, in the wake of July's 2015 mass shooting that killed five service members in Chattanooga, Tennessee, the House committee added language to the 2016 defense authorization bill giving military installation commanders more leeway to determine over who can carry "an appropriate firearm," including some personal weapons, while on military bases.

In October, Defense Secretary Ash Carter announced plans to arm "appropriately qualified individuals at select off-installation facilities" requiring that require greater than normal protection. That move was tied to as part of a host of new base protection measures. But lawmakers have argued that Carter's action falls short of the congressional mandate for a specific plan, and still does not give troops enough flexibility to in carrying personal firearms for protection.

Committee Democrats opposed the threat to withhold funding hold over the issue, calling it potentially harmful to troops.

"Yes, they should give us the report, but we don't want to tie the hands of the Office of the Secretary of Defense to do their best to provide for the military," said ranking member Rep. Adam Smith, D-Wash., who added that "the presence of more firearms in a place may not make it safer."

But Democrats did not resist offered no resistance to the military spouse amendment, which would clarify for purposes of weapons purchases their state residency as the location of their family’s duty assignment and make military identification cards acceptable documentation for firearms background checks.

Hunter said he has heard from military spouses frustrated and fearful because they cannot buy a gun for protection due to confusion over state and federal residency laws regarding their residency.

Both measures must still be approved by Senate lawmakers and signed into law by the president before they go into effect. The authorization bill isn't expected to be finalized until later this year.

Leo Shane III covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He can be reached at lshane@militarytimes.com.

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