Monday, December 08, 2014

Thoughts on Rearmament: Getting There from Here

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.


Anonymous said...

The use of clearing barrels elevates the chance of an accidental discharge dramatically. While I was in Bosnia, every accidental discharge was at a clearing barrel.

By contrast, Special ops, MPs, and foreign troops, never used the clearing barrels, carried loaded everywhere, and didn't have any problems.

Further, constantly loading, unloading, and reloading the same round increases the probability of a malfunction when you most need that first round to work. This is because the act of chambering slightly pushes back on the nose of the round a little bit. Do that over and over and you get a round that is measurably shorter and no longer a SAAMI spec size for that caliber. This problem is mostly seem in pistol ammo with no crimp, where the mouth of the case determines headspace.

heresolong said...


I get that loading and unloading is generally what causes AD, but who cares if the AD is always into a clearing barrel. That's sort of the point, isn't it?

The other thing that loading and unloading does is wear the magazine spring. It is the cycling of the spring that causes fatigue. Don't know how many cycles it takes but each time you insert and eject a round you are working that spring and this is what causes metal fatigue.

DC: I don't see why leaving loaded guns locked in your car would be an issue or why you would be hesitant to recommend it. That is the default for everyone I know. Going somewhere that doesn't allow you to carry inside, we all just remove the pistol from our belts and tuck the whole thing into the glove-box or under the seat, somewhere out of sight. With the car locked the firearm is no more dangerous than if it were unloaded and the magazine left sitting right next to it. A thief is getting both either way.

Anonymous said...

@ Here
The issue with the clearing barrels is that the hand that is accidently discharging is attached to the same arms that is pointing the weapon that is attached to the same brain that thought the weapon was clear and was not expecting it to go off. In bosnia, 30% of clearing barrel accidents MISSED the sand in the barrel and shot through the metal sides. (I was base commander so I kept track of such things)

The harm of locking the gun in your car is that it is illegal. Recommending it is the same as recommending people break laws.

Dr. Φ said...

Locking a firearm in a car is illegal? I didn't know. Could it be just a Virginia thing? And I assume it doesn't apply to the trunk, which I think is protected by federal law. The reason I recommended against it is that safety ought to preclude leaving a firearm with a round in the chamber anywhere, including in a vehicle.

Full disclosure: in my personal capacity, I carry in "Condition 3", i.e. with an empty chamber. Yes, I know that I will have to spend a precious half-second racking the slide in a defensive situation. But I have to weight that against the part of my anatomy that the holstered weapon is pointing.

So in my case, a clearing barrell isn't necessary. But people who carry "Condition 1" at some point have to unload the weapon when they take it off, and at THAT point need a safe (or safer) place to point it. So it's not clear that the cause of the accidental discharges is the clearing barrel so much as the requirement that the weapon be continually loaded and unloaded.

Anonymous said...

Illegal refers to Privately owned firearms on base, locked in a trunk. i thought this discussion was about bringing arms onto post.

In Virginia, that's just fine, loaded or empty. Military posts (like the Pentagon parking lot) don't obey state laws on this matter.

heresolong said...

Generic, Thanks for your clarification on leaving a loaded weapon in your car. It is specifically not illegal in Washington state. I do agree that most of the problem with AD is idiots with guns. I have never had an AD and only ever known one person who did. He was stupid and got lucky. He won't do it again.

By the way, I believe there is a difference between "against base regulations" and "illegal". Is there a federal law prohibiting it or is it up to each base commander. Seems to me the latter is correct.

As far as Condition 3 goes, I don't see the need and I don't think that it tactically is a good idea. There will be enough things to think about as some mugger rushes at you while you try to unholster, point, and shoot without also having to rack the slide. With the new generation firearms (ie anything younger than thirty years or so) I don't think there are many firearms that can accidentally go off because of something bumping against the hammer. And since I never unload my weapon unless I am at the range shooting or at home cleaning, the difference between Condition 1 and Condition 3 is somewhat irrelevant from that perspective.

Dr. Φ said...

@GV: My hypotheticals were examining various levels of firearm liberalization on military bases. The reason I recommended against leaving a loaded weapon (i.e. Conditions 1 & 2) in an automobile had to with safety, or perceived safety. But the assumption was that the base would allow it.

@Here: If I were police or PSO or had the kind of life that put me in higher-threat areas of town, then I would carry Condition 2 (since Glocks are DA only). And I appreciate that proper trigger discipline prevents ADs. My discomfort is strictly psychological.

Anonymous said...

Base regulations are legally enforcable as if they are law. It is a clever workaround. you don't actually get charged with a firearms violation (not against the law), you get charged with violation of base regulations (against the law).

@Dr P, Every military base I have been on has been uniformly prohibitive of loaded firearmes being transported on the reservation property, that would include storage in a POV. The nearly universal reg (if there is an exception, I have never seen it), is unloaded and inaccessible to the driver, in a case. And loaded mags are considered a loaded weapon.

The quantico rules are typical:

I think I remember in 2010 the DoD moving to a uniform standard for all DoD bases afte teh Hassan shootings at Ft Hood.