McCaul: 'They Defend Us Overseas, Yet They're Defenseless at Bases'

Sunday, 06 Apr 2014 01:40 PM

By Sandy Fitzgerald

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House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Michael McCaul believes the ban on carrying weapons on military bases should be lifted to help prevent further attacks like last week's at Fort Hood, Texas, but retired Adm. Michael Mullen, the former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, does not agree.

During appearances on "Fox News Sunday" and CBS' "Face the Nation," McCaul, R-Texas, said last week's shootings, in which Ivan Lopez opened fire and killed four people, including himself, calls for a "reanalysis of protection policies."

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"I think we need to talk to the commanders about whether it would make sense for some of our senior leadership officers to carry weapons for protection," he said on "Face the Nation."

"Ideally, what you want to have are more military police officers, but in the current budget climate it's not as realistic. So a force multiplier of officers and enlisted men we can trust ... have them carry.

"Because it only takes a few minutes to ruin and kill a large number of soldiers. Anytime we see soldier on soldier, it's one of the most tragic things we can see. And if we had senior leadership armed, maybe they could have stopped it before it got worse."

Last week's shooting is just one in a growing list of incidents at the nation's military bases, including the 2009 shootings at Fort Hood and last year's shootings at the Washington, D.C., Navy Yard.

The shootings have stirred the debate over whether more military personnel should be allowed to carry weapons on base. Lifting on-base gun restrictions would allow for faster responses in active shooter situations.

Ret. Staff Sgt. Alonzo Lunsford, who was shot seven times by Nidal Hasan in the 2009 attack at Fort Hood, supports eliminating that restriction.

"I support that 100 percent. I do," Lunsford told "The Steve Malzberg Show" on Newsmax TV.

Lunsford said that with terrorists ready to strike on home soil, soldiers need to be ready to strike back. He also said there is simply a deterrent factor to a potential attacker that comes with knowing the would-be victims are armed.

Lunsford still thinks he would have been shot by Hasan if the firearms ban weren't in place, but he or someone else may have had the opportunity to fire back and end the bloodshed sooner.

McCaul said it makes no sense that military personal, who fight overseas, can't defend themselves at home.

"They defend us overseas, yet they're defenseless at bases," he told Fox News.

But military officials, including Mullen, disagree with McCaul's opinion. They pointed out the comments of Virginia Democratic Sen. Tim Kaine, who said he would support lifting the ban if military officials agreed.

"If the military reassess and says that's the right strategy, then I'm going to support it," he said. "For those of us in Congress [to] say, here's what they should do, I worry whether it would be political rather than about safety and security."

Mullen, appearing on "Meet the Press," said allowing soldiers to carry weapons on base will not solve the increase in attacks.

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"I'm not one — as someone who has been on many, many bases and posts — that would argue for arming anybody who is on base," said Mullen. "I think that actually invites much more difficult challenges."

He said that he is sure the Fort Hood incident will cause Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel to review procedures needed to protect people on bases, but "I'd be much more in the camp of fixing it that way and focusing on the individuals rather than routinely allowing arms on any military base in the country."

Mullen does not think incidents such as the Fort Hood shootings are just a military problem, but also are a threat on the national level

"Now that more people are coming home, I think we're going to see an increased number of challenges associated with that, and we all need to wrap our arms around the force to help them deal with that," Mullen said. "[But] I don't think this is just a military problem, it's a national problem. We're short mental health professionals in the military, just as we are across the country."

Rep. Tim Murphy, R-Penn., who is a clinical psychologist serving in the Navy Reserve, told Crowley Sunday that while there are special concerns about military bases, such shootings can happen anywhere.

"Throughout the nation the concern is, how do we handle mental illness?" said Murphy. "Frankly, we are not doing a very good job of it."

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Hawaii Democratic Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, an Iraq war veteran, agreed that more needs to be done when it comes to the well-being of the military.

"You're dealing with the effects of multiple deployments, dramatic troop cutbacks," said Gabbard. In addition, there are cuts in commissary benefits, retirement, and more, all of which are causing stress for military members and their families.

"We have to make sure we're not digging into the pockets of our service members," she said.

Meanwhile, Murphy pointed out there are thousands of veterans who have suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder who are never violent, and that it has not been determined if Lopez suffered from the issue.

However, he said, the nation's mental health treatment policies need changing, which is why he has introduced the Helping Families in Mental Health Crisis Act, noting that the nation has a "crazy standard" that unless a person who is "on the verge of holding a knife to their throat" or to someone else's, nobody steps in to help.

Murphy's proposed legislation ensures those experiencing an acute mental health crisis have access to inpatient treatment for psychiatric care. The number of available psychiatric beds has fallen from 550,000 in 1955 to fewer than 40,000 today, he said, which has led to those with severe mental illness not having critical inpatient care and instead ending up elsewhere in the system, like homeless shelters or jails.

Gabbard, pointing out that Lopez had sought professional help, said it is "important for people not to assume that because someone is seeking help, that is an automatic correlation to violence ... we have to change the culture in the military. It is very difficult at a personal level to admit you may need help."

There is a stigma in the military and in the civilian world about PTSD, said Murphy, and he is concerned that news such as the Fort Hood shootings will affect employers' perceptions when it comes to hiring veterans, and the military will also need to "beef up" its treatment options.

"There's a lot we can be doing as a nation," Murphy said. "We cannot treat mental illness by denying it and ignoring it."

Newsmax writer Aaron Stern contributed to this report.

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