Monday, July 27, 2015

Arm the Guard

As the conversation about whether to allow members of the military to be armed so as to defend themselves from terror attacks on US soil comes to Minnesota, I think it is time to give some background on who this would affect and what it would mean.  Before retiring last year, I served 22 years in the MN National Guard, and about 2 years of that was on active duty at my local armory.

First, Minnesota can only decide policy for MN National Guard personnel.  National Guard Airmen and Soldiers have a dual chain of command; both the governor and President are commander in chief.  Marines, Air Force, Navy and Coast Guard personnel would not be affected by changed made by Minnesota.

Second, there are an awful lot of troops in Minnesota that would be affected by a change to Minnesota policy.  Every National Guard Armory (technically the name was changed to TACC, which is Training and Community Center) and other facility has full time uniformed soldiers, not including recruiters.  Called AGR or Active Guard and Reserve, these are the soldiers that conduct the day to day business of the Guard and make sure everything is ready for weekend drills.  Every TACC will have at least two soldiers assigned to it, but headquarters units will have more.  A battalion HQ like Mankato may have a dozen full time soldiers, and a brigade HQ like Rosemount may have upwards of 50.  The largest military installations in Minnesota are the air wing base at Fort Snelling and Camp Ripley, both of which have hundreds of active duty personnel.

Third, how we allow troops to be armed makes a huge difference.  Personal weapons, what most of us in Minnesota would think of as conceal carry, is not a good option for the military.  Good order and discipline in the armed forces relies on every Soldier or Marine being dressed, trained and equipped the same as the next.  Carrying personal weapons would mean dozens of different calibers of ammunition, hundreds of different options for holsters, and most significantly almost limitless options for the mechanics on how a weapon is fired, and how it is made safe.

Every M-16 or M-4 in the US military, no matter what variety of sight it has, is fired in the exact same manner: rotate the selector switch to fire and squeeze the trigger.  Conversely, every M-16 or M-4 is made safe by rotating the selector to safe and clearing the chamber.  With personal weapons, that is not the case.  Some pistols have grip safeties, some have safety selectors on one of both sides of the weapon.  Some are single action, others dual action.  The differences are too numerous to mention, but the key concept is that if one soldier falls, the next soldier can pick up their weapon and continue the fight.  Personal weapons do not work in that scenario.

Instead of personal weapons, the Guard has plenty of weapons of its own to issue to soldiers.  This promotes accountability, but keeps the possibility of firing that weapon as a function of the soldier's duties.  Importantly, military weapons use universal ammunition.  So every M-9 pistol will fire the same ammunition from the same type of magazine.  Military weapons could also be rotated from soldier to soldier, whereas personal weapons are specific to the soldier who purchased it.  For a Guard Armory with a dozen soldiers assigned, six M-9 pistols could be assigned, allowing soldiers to rotate who carries the weapon.

Our men and women in uniform are, unfortunately, targets for our enemies, whether they are overseas or here at home.  They should be equipped to defend themselves, no matter where they are.

And just to keep the lawyers happy, this post represents my opinions, and not the views of the MN National Guard or the Army in general.

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