My intuition that the long-run effort to overcome the general prohibition on possessing privately owned weapons on military installations will require several steps. The Supreme Court must rule, as I expect it will, that “bear” means what it says, and that this component of the Second Amendment is incorporated against the states. The Court must also rule, as several state courts have ruled, that employees and customers of private companies, retail establishments, and government agencies retain the right to keep firearms in their vehicles when those vehicles are parked in lots that, while privately owned, are otherwise open to the public. Armed with such rulings, litigation to overturn prohibitions on military bases will become “ripe” in a way that it presently is not.
Politically speaking, while I am not especially optimistic, I nonetheless hope that a change in administration will encourage military commanders to experiment with more relaxed rules. For instance, they could allow base employees to store unloaded POWs in their locked vehicles. True, that wouldn’t prevent the next Nidal Hassan, but at least we would be allowed the means of self-defense on our commutes.
I’ve been thinking about the firearms handling procedures as they were implemented at ISAF and considering how they might be applied to stateside bases. As I have written, deployed personnel other than Security Forces, while armed, were required to keep our weapons unloaded while in garrison. We loaded the weapons when we went “outside the wire”, but to do this we were expected to use something called a “clearing barrel”. A clearing barrel is basically a sand trap for bullets, a barrel of sand with an opening through which we stuck the muzzles of our weapons while loading and clearing them. The SF also follow these procedures; stateside, in fact, they are attended with some ceremony, though like everything else they are relaxed during deployments. But even in Afghanistan, vehicles entering and exiting the installation are expected to stop inside the gate and its riders to exit and use the barrels for loading and clearing. All this is on the theory that loading and clearing present an elevated risk of either accidental discharge or forgetting about that round we left in the chamber. Which is fair enough, I suppose, although I’d like to see the numbers on accidental discharges into clearing barrels.
These front-gate procedures were relatively easy to follow on deployments when there was very little gate traffic. Obviously that’s not the case on stateside bases with thousands of commuting employees – and likely hundreds of concealed carry licensees – entering and exiting the base every day. I suppose it would be possible to set up a clearing barrel park at the front gate, but I doubt that base commanders would be that motivated.
The commanders could require that firearms be cleared before arriving at the front gate, but that would present the danger of commuters trying to steer with their knees while they fumbled through the unloading of their pistols on the drive up. (I know this would happen because it’s exactly what I would try to do.)
Commanders could allow personnel to drive onto the base with loaded weapons but insist they be unloaded before being locked in the car. But this would be performed without those sacred clearing barrels, so that’s out.
Commanders could tell us, go ahead and leave your weapons loaded while kept in the vehicle. But even I would be reluctant to recommend that.
Commanders could say, well, let’s follow deployment rules: everybody can bring their weapons into their buildings, but they must be unloaded prior to entry, for which purpose we’ll keep clearing barrels at the building entrances. This approach strikes me as the most reasonable, and therefore the most unlikely. There are too many old ladies in government service that would clutch their skirts at the thought of male coworkers being armed.
So I must admit, I’m not seeing any procedures that would satisfy even well-intentioned stakeholders.
* The parking lots of government agencies are technically public property, though I can’t predict what bearing that will have.