Why the Army is telling gun-toting civilians to stay away

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Well, that backfired.

After five members of the armed forces were killed in a shooting at Navy recruitment centers in Chattanooga, Tenn. last week, groups of gun-toting civilians have taken to standing guard outside military recruitment centers, which the Pentagon maintains as "gun-free zones."

Now, the U.S. Army Recruiting Command has issued a letter telling recruiters to treat those armed citizens as a "security threat" Stars and Stripes reported late Wednesday.

“I’m sure the citizens mean well, but we cannot assume this in every case and we do not want to advocate this behavior,” reportedly read the letter, which Stars and Stripes says was authenticated by the Pentagon.


Armed citizens stationing themselves outside of recruitment centers have been reported in Washington, Texas, Utah, Colorado, Indiana and other states. According to Pentagon rules, only military police or local law enforcement officials are allowed to carry weapons on federal property, including military recruitment centers.

Oath Keepers, a national gun rights activist group, put out a call to its members on Tuesday, asking them to guard recruiting and reserve centers across the nation. "[The Pentagon] can control the active members but they can't do shit about us veterans," founder Stewart Rhodes told Fusion in a phone interview as he headed to a recruiting station in Kalispell, Mt. Most people standing guard over recruiting stations are veterans, and Oath Keepers members are fulfilling the "warrior creed" to protect their brothers, he said.

"They can kiss my fucking ass," he said of the Pentagon and President Obama. "To regard a bunch of veterans as a security threat is absolutely ludicrous."


Last week's shooting has sparked a debate about whether military members should be able to carry weapons at the centers.


"It's outrageous that members of our armed services have lost their lives because the government has forced them to be disarmed in the workplace," Chris Cox, a spokesman for the National Rifle Association, told CNN on Tuesday.

John Vintila, an Army veteran who stood outside a Texas recruitment center armed with an AK-47 on Wednesday, told a local FOX affiliate: "Why not? Our government isn't protecting them. It's up to me, you, him, all these people. Somebody gotta do it."


Recruiters have been ordered not to interact with the armed civilians, and to report the incident to local law enforcement and to command if they feel threatened.

“If questioned by these alleged concerned citizens, be polite, professional and terminate the conversation immediately and report the incident to local law enforcement,” the command advised recruiters.


Since the Chattanooga attack, at least six governors have issued executive orders to do away with gun-free zones at recruitment centers. Florida Gov. Rick Scott went so far as moving the state's recruitment centers to local armories until he considers the situation to be suitably safe. On Tuesday, one of those armories was evacuated after a bomb threat was called in.

On Wednesday, a Pentagon spokesman told reporters that the Department of Defense has no plans to change its current weapons policy.


Update 4:15 pm:  On Thursday afternoon, a civilian "guard" accidentally fired a shot from his AK-47 at an Ohio recruitment center. He has been charged with discharging a firearm in the city limits. “It is what it is,” he told a local paper. “Nobody got hurt.”

Daniel Rivero is a producer/reporter for Fusion who focuses on police and justice issues. He also skateboards, does a bunch of arts related things on his off time, and likes Cuban coffee.

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