Hawkish Republicans and the senior leadership of the Pentagon typically see eye-to-eye on most things, but the deadly shooting at Fort Hood last week has exposed a rift on a highly-charged issue: Gun control.
After U.S. Army Specialist Ivan Antonio Lopez killed three troops and wounded 16 others last week, Republicans on Capitol Hill began calling for new legislation to allow servicemembers to carry concealed weapons on U.S. bases. The measures are strongly opposed by the Pentagon, which says they would be costly and do nothing to improve security at bases.
"Some of the top reasons are safety concerns, the prohibitive costs of use-of-force and weapons training, qualification costs, and compliance with various weapons screening laws," a spokesman for the department said.
But on Capitol Hill, a number of GOP lawmakers say the current system is broken and if more Fort Hood personnel were armed last week, Lopez would not have been able to kill and injure as many as he did.
"We should be looking at the idea of senior leadership at these bases, give them the ability to carry a weapon," Michael McCaul (R-TX), chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee told Fox News on Sunday.
McCaul isn't alone. Rep. Steve Stockman (R-TX) introduced legislation following the shootings at the Washington Navy Yard in September that would allow servicemembers and civilians to carry personal firearms on bases. A spokesman for Stockman says his bill gained three co-sponsors since last week: Paul Broun (R-GA), Lynn Westmoreland (R-GA) and Scott Perry (R-PA). In the Senate, James Inhofe (R-OK) also says he supports allowing service members to carry on base. At a hearing last week, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) suggested the ban on concealed carry weapons should be lifted.
The Pentagon counters that a lack of guns on military bases is not the problem.
Existing rules allow military police and some other personnel to carry weapons deemed necessary for their job. In such a situation, a service member would openly carry government-provided weapons with the approval of the installation commander. Beyond that, the military says it "does not support arming all personnel," a position it came upon after ordering a review of safety protocols following the 2009 Fort Hood killings and another review following the shooting at the Washington Navy Yard in September.
McCaul did not offer specifics on legislation he's considering, but some Republicans want to see servicemembers allowed to carry concealed weapons, which is strictly prohibited under existing rules. At a press conference on April 2, Lt. General Mark Milley, Ft. Hood's commanding officer, opposed the allowance of concealed weapons on base. "We have law enforcement agents, with trained professionals, and I don't want to endorse carrying concealed weapons," he said.
The latest flare up is not the first time the military establishment has gone to the mat against gun rights advocates.
In 2012, U.S. military commanders came under increasing pressure to combat the alarming spike in military suicides, many involving firearms. However, a law backed by the NRA prohibited military officers from asking servicemembers about personally-owned firearms and whether removing the weapon may be appropriate given the servicemember's mental state.
"I am not allowed to ask a soldier who lives off-post whether that soldier has a privately-owned weapon," General Peter Chiarelli, the Army's former vice chief of staff said at the time. The law took effect in 2010, and since then, a dozen retired military officers including former Army Chief of Staff Gen. Dennis Reimer, have written to members of Congress asking them to amend the law.
With respect to the Fort Hood shooting, the law prevented commanders from asking about Lopez's personally-owned weapons because he had not been judged by a mental health care worker to be a risk to himself. At a Senate hearing last week, Army Secretary John McHugh said Lopez had seen a military psychiatrist but there were no red flags. "He was fully examined ... We had no indication on the record of that examination that there was any sign of likely violence, either to himself or to others. No suicidal ideation," McHugh said.
While the military maintains its opposition to the 2010 law, there are no signs it will be amended anytime soon.
The NRA did not respond to a request for comment.