Fearing a repeat of what happened in Chattanooga, Tenn., Gov. Doug Ducey on Wednesday directed that more than 200 members of the Arizona National Guard – and potentially thousands – be armed while on duty.
The executive order spells out that Guard members working outside secure facilities like military bases must be issued sidearms to protect themselves. Gubernatorial adviser J.P. Twist said that is designed to address what happened last week when five service members were killed at the Tennessee operational support center.
But the governor’s order goes farther. It actually permits Maj. Gen. Michael McGuire, the top military officer of the Guard, to allow individual airmen and soldiers to bring their own personal hand guns onto secure military facilities operated by the Guard.
Twist said that is because history shows that while radicals may seek out “soft” targets like recruiting centers, they have acted out elsewhere. He specifically pointed a 2009 incident at Fort Hood that left 13 dead and injured more than 30 others; another shooting at the Texas fort last year resulted in the deaths of five people, including the gunman.
Press aide Daniel Scarpinato said Ducey’s action, similar to what has been done by several other governors, is justified.
“Given the incidents we’ve seen, most recently in Chattanooga, the governor believes we need to make the safety and security of our Guard personnel a huge priority,” he said.
“We need to assure them that they’re safe and make sure they have the tools to remain safe,” Scarpinato continued. “And so this policy, which was developed in close consultation with the National Guard, will allow them to protect themselves and not be vulnerable.”
The main focus, said Twist, will be those working away from secure places like the Papago Reservation in Phoenix, the 162nd Fighter Wing in Tucson and Camp Navajo west of Flagstaff. All of those have guards at the gates and armed security personnel.
But that still leaves more than a dozen recruiting stations and several armories without such protection.
Soldiers and airmen assigned to those facilities will be issued sidearms, with Twist stressing stressed there will be no rifles or automatic weapons. Twist said he thinks that involves about 225 individuals.
Lt. Col. Gabe Johnson declined to spell out specific numbers for security reasons, saying only that “hundreds” of Guard members fall into that category.
The potentially larger group includes soldiers and airmen who work on the Guard military facilities.
Johnson said until now the Arizona Guard has operated under Department of Defense policies which presume that individuals entering such facilities need not carry weapons because there already are armed security officers. In fact, he said, the policy has prohibited people from bringing their own personal weapons onto any military sites.
The change, said Johnson, should bring the Guard facilities into closer alignment with existing state gun laws.
“In Arizona, other residents can take advantage of carrying a weapon for self defense,” he said. That includes the right of any adult to carry a gun openly or even concealed.
“So why would we differentiate from that?” Johnson said. But he acknowledged that “these are details we have to work out.”
One of those details, he said, is going to be a requirement for special training. Johnson said that would include both self defense and dealing with “active shooter” situations.
Johnson said it is impossible to tell how many Guard members might be able to bring their own firearms to their assignments.
He said the Arizona National Guard has about 5,100 soldiers and 2,600 airmen. But Johnson said not all of them may have their own weapons. And even if they do, he said, they might not be interested in carrying them.
Johnson also noted the Guard has about 500 civilian employees. He said it is possible the right to be armed while on military reservations will be extended to them, too.