Why Increased Base Security Is a Mistake

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If you think the most recent mass shooting on Fort Hood means that we really ought to tighten up physical security on military bases, I’m betting you haven’t spent much time on one lately.

With four more people, including the gunman, dead in another mass shooting on Hood, I’ve been listening to a stream of proclamations coming out of the civilian media.

Will the military become a leader on gun control?

We need to make it harder to bring weapons on base!

Base security must be tightened!!!

Although these people may be well meaning, it sounds to me like they have no idea what a military base is like.  They want to make sure that a  place  that is surrounded by gates and guards and seems like it should be safer than the outside world, is actually a place where no harm can ever, ever happen.

So let’s make military bases even more secure, shall we?  Let’s add check points! Or more thorough car searches! Or metal detectors as you enter the Commissary!

Interesting thoughts.  If a lack of security on bases was really the problem, then tightening security might be the answer.

But that isn’t the problem, is it? In the military community we know the problem. We live with the problem. We see it in the suicide statistics  —  that an estimated 22 military veterans a day commit suicide.

We can look at the recent shootings on military bases and see that the problem is not a problem with security.  The problem is often one of mental health. The violent outbursts and bizarre behavior of Navy Yard Shooter Aaron Alexis  (a veteran) were allegedly known to neighbors and  employers.  Fort Hood shooter Spc. Ivan Lopez has been described as having a ” self-diagnosed”  traumatic brain injury (TBI) although he was never in combat during his time in Iraq.

In one way, I can understand why people say security needs to go up.  I can see why they would think military bases would be the safest place on earth, the ultimate gated community full of families safe from violence.

But that is not the purpose of security on military bases. The security measures are there to protect the training and military assets on the base. That they make might my home and grocery shopping more secure is an added side-effect — not the primary goal.

Perhaps people are reaching for the increased security on bases because it is an easily grasped straw that offends no one.  If we point to problems with mental health as causes of these shootings, then perhaps the unintended outcome will be a prejudice against hiring veterans. Instead of fearing that their employees will be  “going postal,” perhaps employers will start worrying that veterans  will go “all Fort Hood.”

That’s truly frightening. And unfair. And all too likely.

Yet in our care not to damage the reputation and employability of all veterans, perhaps we are missing a chance to talk about how difficult it is to solve the problems of mental health.

As an Army wife,  I do know about the struggle after war. I know what it’s like to watch a service member refuse to get help and then self-destruct. I know that the war within can be hidden and that if a warfighter doesn’t want help no one may know that he needs it.

My fear is that we will focus on the politically correct idea that the incidents like the mass shootings at Ft. Hood and the Navy Yard can be solved by beefing up security.  New technology will be installed.  We will all learn some new, convoluted security practice that will be just about as effective as security measures at airports.

My fear is that we will divert funds and attention and innovations that could help our veterans and all Americans who suffer from problems with their mental health. We miss a chance to develop better measures that will identify dangerous people before they commit crimes against the innocent.

I don’t have the answers to all the questions. I don’t know how to make sure mentally unsound people don’t access to weapons or the ability to harm themselves or others. I don’t know how to save the world.

But I’m pretty sure that if you want to solve a problem you have to identify the true causes of the problem and not go for the easiest answers within reach.

About the Author

Amy Bushatz
Amy is the editor in chief of Military.com’s spouse and family blog SpouseBuzz.com. A journalist by trade, Amy also covers spouse and family news for Military.com where she is the managing editor of spouse and family content. An Army wife and mother of two, Amy has been featured as a subject matter expert on CNN.com, NPR, Fox News, NBC, CBS, ABC and BBC as well as in the New York Times, Wall Street Journal and Washington Post. Follow her on twitter @amybushatz.
  • Anonymous343523

    Well said. It’s not an issue of guns but rather the person behind the gun. Anyone who seems to be in bad mental shape who refuses to get help needs to be reported to the proper authorities and anyone who has received help, needs to be monitored better. Bases seem to be implementing a digital card scanner these days for base access…It would be helpful if the scanners they use could tell if someone has been known to have depression and anger issues and if that were the case, they’d tell them to pull over and then perform a search on them before allowing entry into base. I’m not sure if it could ever be that easy or do-able but something needs to be done and banning guns is not going to solve the problem.

  • Lydia

    Agreed, Amy. Both Fort Hood tragedies, the one at the Navy Yard, and the shooting on the USS Mahan were all done by people who had access to base. Searching every car as it comes onto base is unfeasible. I’ve noticed the scans go up, but I fear that attaching medical and other information will do exactly the opposite of what we need to be doing. Service members already hesitant to seek help certainly won’t if they know that information will be attached to their ID and broadcast at gate checks every morning. There is no simple solution, and it is probably a combination of things; but you’re right – we shouldn’t just default to the obvious, easy solution, and whatever they end up doing doesn’t mean we stop analyzing and trying new things to help.

  • Bill

    They all had huge warning signs but for some reason no one acted.

    Is it a lack of leadership or just people afraid to say something or more importantly do something.

    I wonder?

  • ruth

    hadn’t the shooter taken the weapon he used in this shooting onto the base past the “security guards”?

    didn’t the shooter in this shooting buy the gun from the same gun shop the previous shooter bought his gun from?

    my home depot store is more secure than that base.

    • Mike

      They don’t check every vehicle to get on post. They check maybe 10% on a normal basis. (thats an estimate I dont know the actual percentage) That means that 90% of people could be getting on post with guns. Those same people willing to break the law are slipping drugs and other illegal items through the gates as well. The shop did the legal background check. If nothing came up there is no legal reason to prevent him from getting a gun. Your arguement is very flawed and ill informed.

  • James

    Major problem with above comments: It assumes that the mentally ill are the problem. That the mentally are responsible for a small percentage of these crimes has been well made elsewhere.

    I agree that more base security (as such) is also not the solution.

    The problem on military bases, as well as the rest of our society — and as has already been pointed out elsewhere — is that we have made our bases target rich environments by disarming everyone.

    Some people just choose evil. We must empower our citizens — and warriors — to resist it.

  • USMC-FO

    Guns in this country are as easy to get as a stick of gum. With essentially no effective screening of gun access it is very easy for the mentally ill to get their hands on a gun. If you stop to think about it for a second all of these highly publicized mass shootings are committed by first time assailants who had easy access to guns. Unless and until reasonable access to guns is better controlled with law and deep background checks we are going to see these events continue over and over again. Unfortunately though this country is so intractable on this point that any real progress is consistently stymied. All the while the rest of the civilized world just shakes their collective heads at our inability to get anything done in this country. Pretty pathetic.

    • Snufy

      FO, do you realize what you’re saying? You’re blaming the tool instead of the person using it. I can make a gun that will kill anyone. All shootings have been committed in gun-free zones. The basic answer is to allow trained service members to carry. How simple is that?

      • AppyHorsey

        http://www.kspr.com/news/nationworld/20-injured-i

        Another “gun free zone”… Do you (USMC-FO) or others, propose that we take away the “rights” of individuals to buy/possess a knife? What’s next… Paper because of paper cuts?

        The ONLY answer to “crazies” with guns/weapons is to “allow” all citizens their RIGHT to carry a weapon ANYWHERE and Everywhere they go. ESPECIALLY on bases, in schools, etc. That would stop a LOT of this, and the few who still chose to try to do a “mass killing” wouldn’t get very far before they were stopped. There’d be no more “mass” killings. He/she “might” get off a shot or 2 but that would be all.

        You never hear of a “mass shooting” on a gun range. Or in other places where citizens are “allowed” to practice their RIGHTS and to carry a weapon to defend themselves.

        Having said all that, I also think that alot of these socalled “crazies” may not even KNOW WHAT they are “doing”. Many of them are pumped so full of mind altering drugs by doctors/psychiatrists, that they are not even “themselves” anymore.

        Don’t blame the “weapon”. Blame the person holding the weapon, but then, get to the bottom of it, by doing something about the way those drugs are handed out willy nilly to anyone, everyone, and most times, it not even KNOWN what all the “side effects” could be.

        • DaveW

          Active duty and retired military law enforcement personnel may soon be authorized to carry concealed weapons under a change to existing federal law. There are specific rules which must be met. Ten years minimum police experience, provide own weapon and ammo, train at own expense off post, pass background check, no drugs or alcohol while armed, etc. They won’t be acting in any official capacity, but maybe the next time some nut goes postal, the destruction will be limited and ended before installation security personnel arrive at the scene.

      • DaveW

        Also, in nearly every case, whether involving military or not, the perpetrator has been previously identified as having mental/emotional problems and were on medication. The majority of them have come from liberal homes (parents were registered Democrats). Others had a parent/guardian who was known to be mentally “off”… as in paranoid to the extreme (Sandy Hook), or associated with members of a radical element (first Ft Hood).

        Seems like we need to disarm the progressives who want to create all these senseless laws.

  • AppyHorsey

    I tried to give a thumbs up to JAMES, but accidentally gave it to USMC-FO. I preferred to give a thumbs DOWN to USMC-FO, but it won’t let me “change” my “accidental” vote. I hope NO ONE thinks I’d “support” even MORE stomping on our gun rights, as USMC-FO is suggesting. (And I can’t believe that a “military person” is even SUGGESTING this… On the other hand, military personnel are USED to “taking orders” (wrong or right!!) and giving up their rights, so I guess it’s easy for them to think every human in the U.S. should give up their rights and let this Country finish dropping down into communistic hell. I sure do wish I hadn’t of accidentally gave him that thumbs up. It makes me sick to SEE it everytime I look up there!! Please, people, do NOT think “I” would EVER “agree” with GIVING UP MORE OF OUR RIGHTS in this Country!!

    • AppyHorsey

      >> Your comment must be approved by the site admins before it will appear publicly. << In THAT Case, can YOU Take away that ACCIDENTAL Thumbs UP I gave to "USMC-FO" for me?? Please? Thanks.

  • smokemifyougotem

    Amy: Very astute commentary…..

  • Lem Earl

    Perhaps a differing thought: Enact a federal statute that would authorize officers and senior NCO’s (E-6 & over) to carry sidearms at all times, including off -base. That way, when a perpetrator starts out on a military base, he is apt to be confronted by “a good-guy with a gun.”

    • Kevin C

      You can not and should not limit the power to a few. Did you not know that one of the mass shootings was by an officer? You want to enact a federal statute, then you enact it for everyone that has been educated. You wanna carry a weapon on base? Then attend a handgun course. Get certified and let EVERYONE who is responsible carry a weapon. Just because I am a SNCO doesn’t make me any better than that E-5.

  • DaveW

    I spent 21+ years in base security (security and law enforcement – which have now been combined). We worked with a lot of civilian police agencies, and once in a while, we would be invited to attend training with them.

    While attending the San Bernardino County Sheriffs Academy, one of the instructors commented to the class that the next information he presented would be for the real cops. It wasn’t intended as a slight, but we took it that way, and when we had our next break he got to learn what General Custer felt like.

    What he failed to understand was that every base is a city, with it’s own zip code(s), stores, residential areas, industrial areas, banks, restaurants, schools, airport, hospital, fire department, etc. We patrolled the base day and night, just like any police department. We investigated crimes, conducted traffic patrol, and so on.

    We pointed out to him that a number of us had had to deal with real bad guys who were members of the armed forces. At McChord AFB in 1970, I busted an armed robbery ring which was knocking over 7/11s off base and zipping back onto the base.

    While the military has control over who joins, and, with fences and gates, who enters and leaves an installation, we still have our share of bad apples. No group keeps them all out, or keeps them from going rogue. Civilians do not have that advantage.

    We both deal with very good people, and with bad people, so, the difference comes to the difference between civilian communities and ours is that we get to deal with a better class of low life.

  • JanB

    Why did command transfer this soldier while he was being treated for mental/psychiatric issues? In my opinion, if the soldier claims there is a problem, then there is a problem! News reports from base command state this soldier did not see action and was a military truck driver. Really? I would really like to know the soldiers statement regarding the presumed head injury.

  • Bill

    The system is not broke – so don’t fix it. The only solution is to do away with all guns in the U.S. Other
    than that, the odd shooting will take place. It’s sad, but it’s a fact. The only thing I would like to know
    is why the poor guy couldn’t get a leave form in the first place and why he was told he had to come back
    in the afternoon. I’ve experienced the same kind of lousy service (not too many times) at Personnel
    and Orderly rooms. If the Personnel Office had done their job maybe, just maybe, this situation could have been avoided. What a sad day for all people in the Military, but especially those wounded, kliled and stationed at Fort Hood.

  • DLS

    Gun control nuts come out when any shootings occur, better screening on entry to the military would help.
    Guess they will be wanting to ban and register knives now with the school cutting.

    • Shibby95

      All military recruits should take a psychological exam prior to entering the military to determine the type of person entering the military. Implement a midterm examination during their career and give another exam after any combat, police action or peace keeping mission and the final seperation or retirement. The military owes the general public a heads up on what type of person they’re releasing back into the community. Military trains people to become killers, wither in a small or big way, everyone is taught how to shoot.

  • Don Campas

    You shouldnt worry about who is trying to get in. You should worry about who is already on the base. Just food for thought