Can Military Servicemembers Carry Firearms for Personal Protection on Duty?
Kristy N. Kamarck, Analyst in Military Manpower (firstname.lastname@example.org, 7-7783)
Heidi M. Peters, Information Research Specialist (email@example.com, 7-0702)
July 17, 2015 (IN10318)
On July 16, 2015, an armed shooter attacked a Marine Corps recruiting center and U.S. Naval Reserve Center in
Chattanooga, Tennessee, killing four Marines and wounding at least three other members of the Marine Corps,
Navy, and local police before the shooter was killed. This follows other recent active shooter incidents on military
installations, including the 2009 and 2014 shootings at Fort Hood, Texas, and the 2013 Washington Navy Yard
shooting. While those incidents took place on military installations, the most recent incident, in contrast, took
place at a reserve center and a recruiting office. Military installations have armed guards and security gates or
checkpoints, while reserve centers and recruiting offices are typically integrated into local communities in
locations where they are most likely to be approached by interested recruits. Therefore, recruiting offices, by
design, are less likely to have the same level of security as other government facilities where military
servicemembers are assigned.
Following the most recent incident, some have questioned whether force protection measures at recruiting stations
are adequate, and asked what U.S. statutes and DOD policies say regarding the ability of servicemembers to carry
government-issued firearms for personal protection while on duty. Following is a discussion of the applicable law
and policy regarding government-issued firearms for personal protection of servicemembers on duty. This does
not address law or policies regarding privately-owned firearms.
Statute and DOD Policies
Section 1585 of Title 10, United States Code authorizes the Secretary of Defense to prescribe policy and
regulations regarding the carrying of firearms for DOD employees:
Under regulations to be prescribed by the Secretary of Defense, civilian officers and employees of the Department
of Defense may carry firearms or other appropriate weapons while assigned investigative duties or such other
duties as the Secretary may prescribe.
The DOD Directive that implements this statute states that DOD personnel "shall be appropriately armed and have
the inherent right to self-defense." However, the same Directive also suggests that military servicemembers should
not be armed indiscriminately:
Arming DoD personnel with firearms shall be limited and controlled. Qualified personnel shall be armed when
required for assigned duties and there is reasonable expectation that DoD installations, property, or personnel lives
or DoD assets will be jeopardized if personnel are not armed. Evaluation of the necessity to arm DoD personnel
shall be made with the consideration of the possible consequences of accidental or indiscriminate use of those
arms. However, the overriding factors in determining whether or not to arm are the mission and threat. Arming
DoD personnel (i.e., administrative, assessment, or inspection, not regularly engaged in or directly supervising
security or law enforcement activities) shall be limited to missions or threats and the immediate need to protect
DoD assets or persons' lives.
In reference to the DOD Directive, the military departments also have promulgated policies and regulations
regarding carrying firearms for personal protection while on duty. (see Table 1.) Across the Services, the carrying
of government-issued firearms for personal protection is generally prohibited unless authorized by high-level
officials, and in most cases requires an evaluation of threat conditions.
Table 1. Military Department-Level Policies and Regulations Regarding Carrying of Firearms
for Personal Protection
Army Regulation The Secretary of the Army may authorize the carrying of
190-14, March 12, firearms for personal protection within the continental
[Department of the Army] military and civilian personnel
may be authorized to carry firearms for personal
protection when the responsible intelligence center
identifies a credible and specific threat against DA
personnel in that regional area. Firearms will not be
issued indiscriminately for that purpose. Before
individuals are authorized to carry a firearm for personal
protection under this regulation, the authorizing official
(1) The probability of the threat in a particular location.
(2) The adequacy of support by Department of the Army
or DOD protective personnel.
(3) The adequacy of protection by U.S. or host nation
(4) The effectiveness of other means to avoid personal
Military and civilian personnel of the Department of the
5500.29C, August Navy not involved in full time law enforcement, security
or counter-intelligence duties shall not carry governmentissued firearms for personal protection within the
[Continental United States] or when they have been
provided an official protective service detail, unless
specifically authorized by the CNO, VCNO, CMC,
ACMC, or Dir. NClS, respectively.
MCO 5500.6H CH Marines and civilian personnel of the Marine Corps not
1, August 21, 2013 involved in full time law enforcement or security duties
shall not carry government-issued firearms for personal
protection within the United States or when they have
been provided an official protective service detail, unless
specifically authorized by [Deputy Commandant for
Plans, Policies and Operations].
AFI 31-117, June Senior military and civilian officials may not bear
government-owned firearms for personal protection
within the United States without written approval of
either the Secretary or Deputy Secretary of Defense.
Considerations. Before issuing authorizations to carry
firearms for personal protection, commanders must
consider the following:
The likelihood of the threat in a particular location.
The adequacies of DOD protective personnel support.
The adequacy of host-nation protection.
The effectiveness of other means to avoid personal
The Department of State Threat Criminal levels.
The Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) Intelligence,
Political, and Terrorism threat levels.
DOD Defense Threat Assessments (DTA).
Currently, it appears that the Secretary of Defense could rely on his or her general authority to prescribe regulations
for the DOD to allow servicemembers to carry government-issued firearms for personal protection at his or her
discretion. Those considering changes to law or policy might also consider enhancing passive force protection
measures (e.g., additional training, security cameras, armed guards) for military posts that are not located on