“Who are the militia? Are they not ourselves? Is it feared, then, that we shall turn our arms each man gainst his own bosom. Congress have no power to disarm the militia. Their swords, and every other terrible implement of the soldier, are the birthright of an American... The unlimited power of the sword is not in the hands of either the federal or state governments, but, where I trust in God it will ever remain, in the hands of the people.”
by Tenche Cox




"walls of the city" logo conceptualized by Oleg Volk and executed by Linoge. Logo is © "walls of the city".

on the military and firearms

Let me tell you a story, though an admittedly dry, boring one. 

Regular readers will know that I am a United States Navy veteran*, and, specifically, a Surface Warfare Officer; in short, this means I directed other people to drive ships around oceans.  However, while ships are in port, they have something called a “quarterdeck”; I have no idea what happens to the quarterdeck when the ship is underway, but think of it like laps – they disappear when you stand up.  In any case, quarterdecks are where the visitors and crew of the ship embark and disembark, and where the only access to and from the ship – the brow – is attached. 

IMG_0216-001On the quarterdeck, you will find a variety of things – the ship’s log, a connection into the 1MC (the ship’s loudspeaker system), the various flags (assuming they are not already flying), and, of course, the Officer of the Deck (OOD) and the Petty Officer of the Watch (POOW).  The Commanding Officer (CO) of a ship is always responsible for the ship**, whether it is in-port or underway, but he cannot always be onboard.  When he is not and the ship is in-port, the Command Duty Officer (CDO) is his appointed representative, and is delegated some of the CO’s authority.  The OOD, on the other hand, operates as the CDO’s representative on the quarterdeck of the ship, with the POOW operating as the OOD’s assistant. 

OODs are responsible for ensuring the overall safety and operation of the ship while in-port – they pass 1MC announcements, sound bells for time progression, keep track of whether an officer is aboard or ashore, act as an interface between shoreside workers and onboard personnel for repair tasks, organize working parties, and check the IDs of persons attempting to access the ship.  Additionally, should the situation arise, OODs and POOWs are the ship’s first line of physical defense while in-port – both carry M9 pistols.  Depending on the ship’s size and threat condition, there can be additional roving/fixed patrols armed with a variety of other weapons, but if someone means to storm the ship, they are coming up the brow… right into the OOD and POOW. 

As a junior officer in the Navy, I stood OOD for four to six hours every six days for the first three years of my career.  Thankfully, all I did for those… countless… hours was check ID cards – there are a few stories I probably will not share, but the upshot is there were no shootouts on any of the ships I served on.  In order to be qualified as an OOD, however, I had to get qualified on the M9. 

Which is a sad story in and of itself. 

“Qualifying” on the M9 consisted of sitting through a presentation given by the Gunnery Mates on how to operate, load, and fire the M9… and then go to the range and shoot the qualifying course.  I was afforded no opportunity to practice, familiarize myself with the firearm, or do anything except get in front of the qualifying target and hope for the best.  Thankfully, I managed to qualify as a “Sharpshooter” (meaning I scored somewhere between 204 and 227 out of 240)… and that was the last time I ever fired that ugly-arsed POS in the Navy. 

400deckportholeHowever, despite the… lacking… “training” I received on that particular firearm***, the Navy, from my Department Head on up, trusted me to carry an M9 in Condition 2 with 45 rounds of ammunition in Pascagoula, Mayport, Ingleside, Norfolk, San Diego, Panama City, Manta, Abu Dhabi, Bahrain, Darwin, Brisbane, and other ports I am sure I am forgetting. 

Do you know what the Navy did not trust me to do, however?  The Navy did not trust me to carry a firearm off duty, or on the ship any time I was not on watch.  While I was stationed in Mayport, FL, I possessed a Florida CCW permit; if I dared to bring a firearm onto base, concealed or otherwise, and it was discovered, I would have been up on serious, federal charges and/or court martial. 

I satisfied the Floridian requirements for peacefully, responsible carrying a handgun in the state.  I satisfied the military requirements for carrying a handgun on watch.  It is even worth noting that I received and maintained a Department of Defense Secret clearance during my time in.  But if I were to go out into Jacksonville, purchase the same handgun, stick it in the same craptacular holster the military used, and carry it onto the base as a personal firearm, the reaction I would have received would have been… one I would rather not be on the receiving end of. 

Because that makes sense. 

So, yes, military bases are “gun-free zones”, in that private citizens cannot carry personal firearms onto them, just like every other “gun-free zone” in existence.  A lot of folks have been blaming President BJ Clinton for that particular rule, but the oldest thing I have found is Department of Defense Directive Number 5210.56 (*.pdf warning), dated 25FEB92, which states: 

It is DoD Policy to limit and control the carrying of firearms by DoD military and civilian personnel.  The authorization to carry firearms shall be issued only to qualified personnel when there is a reasonable expectation that life or DoD assets will be jeopardized if firearms are not carried. 

It is worth noting this directive supersedes DoD Directive 5210.66, “Carrying of Firearms by DoD Personnel”, dated 17MAR86. 

DSCF4971-001Yes, military bases have gate guards – bases have between one and 10+ gates, with anywhere between two and 10+ guards (typically rent-a-cops of various types; we generally stopped using Marines at base gates long ago) per gate – and they might have some sort of roving patrol, but even that is not guaranteed (Pascagoula did not, and Mayport did not as far as I am aware).  However, once an aggressor were to penetrate the outer shell of security afforded by those gate guards, there is no immediate second layer of defense – calls would have to be made, forces would have to be mobilized, and all the while, service members and their civil service counterparts are… well, screwed. 

Why not allow service members to be their own second layer of security?  After all, you are your own first responder, and you are the only person legally or morally responsible for your own safety.  And, realistically, a vast number of military members – predominantly Marines and Army, granted, but more and more Air Force and Navy, thanks to the Individual Augmentation program – have received significantly more firearm-related training, if not real-world experience, than your average beat cop that would respond to a “mass shooting” event.  Why not allow them to put that training and experience to work, rather than be forced to “shelter in place”**** and wish they had ammunition?   

Oh, right, because the political points garnered by continuing the myth that “gun-free zones” victim disarmament zones work is more important than anyone’s life, military or not.  It is well past time for us to realize criminals do not obey signs, and disarming peaceful citizens only helps facilitate those who would prey on them. 

(* – And, thankfully, free of any and all legal, moral, or contractual obligations to the military, which means I can say whatever I want about it now. 

** – Barring two unique circumstances; can anyone name them? 

*** – That “training” is why I went out and purchased my very first firearm and then got interested in the firearm-owning community, ending up with this weblog right here.  So, thank the Navy?

**** – Can you imagine the Founding Father’s responses to the military – much less any American citizen – being ordered to “shelter in place”?  Good grief.)

(Image of me on the deck of the Cleveland shamelessly stolen from the Brisbane Times.) 

17 comments to on the military and firearms

  • Hey Butterbars, glad to see you blogging.

  • Not sure if “once a week, if that” counts as “blogging”.

    And I will have you know I had silver bars by the time I left ;).

  • Linoge,

    My story is much like yours, without the permit though.
    I was ‘trained’ on the M-16 as part of my MOS. Later I was trained on the .39 spl revolved; the Air Force hadn’t adopted the M9 yet.

    So, I was trusted with firearms by the government but only on duty. I was trusted with the lives of 78 pilots and radar/weapon system operators (Air Crew Life Support) but not with my own life.

    Of course, the ‘inspections’ never really checked anything. The Security Police only searched my truck once — random drug search and the K9 ate my burger, really well trained, eh.

  • Barring two unique circumstances; can anyone name them?

    When the CO is relieved of command, and when a higher ranking officer makes it his flagship?

  • When the ship is not yet commissioned and when the ship is being moved, not under its own power by the direction of the commanding officer of a naval station or shipyard.

  • dave w

    I too was going to go with mutiny as one of mine, but seans answer is written in perfect federal phrasing so i will agree with him.

  • I didn’t specifically mean mutiny — a First Officer or Chief Medical Officer can relieve a Captain of command for being medically unfit.

    And Sean served in the Navy, which add authoritah to his statement. 🙂

  • Grey Havens Night Watch

    You misunderstand the purpose of the quarterdeck watch (much like a submarine topside watch). It’s not to defend the ship against a determined assault — it is to make enough noise in response to that assault that a “repel boarders” or similar action can be initiated. After all, there is a whole collection of alarm annunciators close at hand on every quarterdeck/topside post. If the quarterdeck (or topside) watch manages to survive the engagement, well done, sailor. Taking the initiative to acquire proficiency in your firearm is commendable, but certainly not required by the Navy. And I was straightforward enough with my topside watches to ensure they understood the situation. (I’m sorry. Was that my outside voice?)

  • Well, some folks got close, but no one quite got there… The two instances in a surface ship’s life when the CO is still the CO (an important point) but no longer responsible for the health and welfare of the ship itself are:

    1. As the bow of the ship crosses into a drydock facility.
    2. When making approach to / while in / while leaving the Panama Canal while the pilot is onboard and directing the ship.

    At all other times, if the ship gets so much as a scratch on its paint, it is the CO’s fault. In those particular instances, the pilots currently directing the vessel are the ones who will be held accountable.

    I understand Panama Canal pilots hold insurance measured in tens of millions.

    @ Bob S.: Sadly, I was never given the opportunity to qualify on an M16/M4, on account of us officers being “above” all that menial stuff. Or something.

    And, yeah, my vehicles were never inspected going onto or coming off base. I was refused entrance a few times, simply because I did not want to deface the front bumper of my car with a license plate (yay stupid Kalifornistan), but that is about it.

    On the other hand, I was refused entrance because my base stickers had expired, and I could not get new ones because I did not want to drill holes in my bumper. So I just drove down to another gate… and they let me in. I try not to speak ill of the dead, but gate guards literally cannot be on top of their game all the time.

    @ Erin Palette: If the CO is relieved, he is no longer the CO of the ship, so it is no longer his concern regardless :). And, oddly, being made flagship does not really do anything for the ship except make other ships listen to it a little more carefully. The CO still owns it, he just happens to have his boss riding alongside.

    @ Sean D Sorrentino: When the ship is not yet commissioned, it is not yet a ship in the eyes of the Navy. COs of precommissioning units typically end up the CO of the ship, but they are treated as two separate entities, strangely enough. And dead-stick berth moves may be pains in the asses, but the CO’s still liable if the ship gets dented… and let me tell you how pissy they get in situations like that.

    @ dave w: He was definitely the closest :).

    @ Grey Havens Night Watch: Honestly, I dare say the situation for quarterdeck watchstanders might have changed a touch between your time doing it and my time doing it, specifically with things like the Cole in everyone’s mind. We were given fairly clear orders that we were the first layer of defense against aggressors, and the understanding that we would probably … not enjoy the experience should it happen. That’s generally why one of us was always at the brow and one of us at the 1MC/alarms, with the person at the alarms obligated to pull them when the other one… has trouble.

  • Geodkyt

    +1 on inconsistant gate guards.

    The base I work on, EITHER a CAC card OR a base badge will get you on base.

    However, the Main Gate will not accept a base badge, despite the fact that it is issued specifically for base access — they demand to see the CAC card (which not everyone authorized to be on base is issued.)

    I use B Gate, both due to this (B Gate ALWAYS closely inspects my badge, but actually follows the published procedure and accepts base badges), Main Gate has a delay at the times I generally would be coming through, AND tehre is an elementary school at the last light before Main Gate, so it’s almost always faster and easier to drive an extra two miles and come in the side.

  • dave w

    @ Linoge:
    So any other pilot is different to a panama canal pilot in that respect?

  • @ Geodkyt: Yeah… I understand why we no longer use Marines at gates, but there is something to be said for it.

    @ dave w: For all other pilots except those on the Canal and those directing into a drydock facility, they are simply offering suggestions based on (hopefully) years of experience that you would probably be wise to follow. If, however, those suggestions should result in some damage to the ship, the CO (and the XO, OOD, JOOD, Conn, Navigator, and a few others) would be held responsible. I have been on the bridge when the CO told the Conn to do something other than what the pilot said, and I have likewise seen Navs do their whole, “Log that the Navigator doesn’t concur… yaddayadda.”

    For the Canal and the drydocks, it is their ball of wax. Given the superfreighters they take through the Canal, you could not pay me enough.

  • @ Linoge:
    Here’s where I got my info


    Chapter 8: The Commanding Officer, Sections 3A&B
    Section 3A: Ships in Naval Stations and Shipyards

    3. When a ship or craft not under her own power
    is being moved by direction of the commanding
    officer of a naval station or naval shipyard, that
    officer shall be responsible for any damage that
    may result therefrom.

    and 3B

    1. Except as may be prescribed by the Chief of
    Naval Operations, the prospective commanding
    officer of a skip not yet commissioned shall have
    no independent authority over the preparation
    of the ship for service by virtue of assignment to
    such duty, until the ship is commissioned and
    placed under his or her command. The

    Now that you’ve told me the correct answer, I gave it a look and found this.

    0857. Safe Navigation and Regulations
    Governing Operation of Ships and

    The commanding officer is responsible for the
    safe navigation of his or her ship or aircrall,
    except as prescribed otherwise i“ these
    regulations for ships at a naval shipyard or
    station, in drydock, or in the Panama Canal.

    The “drydock” bit is explained here:

    When a ship operating under her own power
    is being drydocked, the commmding officer shall
    be fully responsible for the safety of the ship
    until the extremity of the ship first to enter the
    drydock reaches the dock sill and the ship is
    pointed fair for entering the drydock. The
    docking officer shall then take charge and
    complete the docking, remaining in charge until
    the ship has been properly landed, bilge blocks
    hauled, and the dock pumped down. In
    undocking, the docking officer shall assume
    charge when flooding the dock preparatory to
    undocking is started, and shall remain in charge
    until the extremity of the ship last & leave the
    dock clears the sill, and the ship is pointed fair
    for leaving the drydock, when the ship’s
    commanding officer shall assume responsibility
    for the safety and control of the ship.

    The Panama Canal bit is under “pilots”

    A pilot is merely an advisor to the
    commanding olTcer. The presence of a pilot on
    board shall not relieve the commanding officer
    or any subordinate from his or her
    responsibility for the proper performance of the
    duties with which he or she may be charged
    concerning the navigation and handling of the
    ship. For an exception to the provisions of this
    paragraph, see “Rules and Regulations Covering
    Navigation of the Panama Canal and Adjacent
    Waters,” which directs that the pilot assigned to
    a vessel in those waters shall have control of the
    navigation and movement of the vessel. Also see
    the provisions of these regulations concerning
    the navigation of ships at a naval shipyard or
    station, or in entering or leaving drydock.

    Had I read the entire chapter, I would have known the answer. Instead I scanned it, found two that looked good, and ran with it. In my defense, I plead that the Captain was always in charge when I was in the Navy. There weren’t any exceptions that they told me about. The Captain could make Easter Sunday fall on Good Friday if it pleased him and MM2 Sorrentino’s opinion on the matter was neither sought nor welcomed.

    I’m actually surprised that there were any exceptions at all.

  • Given the way those two segments are phrased, I can completely understand how you came to your conclusion. I think the distinction is that 3. does not absolve the CO of his responsibility, just add that the base CO is also responsible.

    I think the exceptions were granted on the premise that in both cases, the ship could potentially be endangering the health and welfare of something that could cost more – in some cases, orders of magnitude more – than the ship itself. Or it was part of the Panama Canal Treaty. No idea :).

  • Geodkyt

    The shipyard and pilot exemptions exist because without them, you cannot prevent the CO from exercising command and disregarding the pilot if he wants to unless you relieve him from command — he signed for the Big Grey Canoe, and as long as he’s on the hook for the dents, he’s in control. We DO NOT want Capt. J. T. Kirk deciding he needs to conn the ship in those cricumstances because he is more likely to damage the rest of the Navy for a total cost that is MUCH more than the naval value of his command. Lose use of the Canal or big chunks of major shipyards for six months to a year repairing damage, and a bump there can easily become a war-losing event. Stuff a capital ship in the Suez crossways and sink it, and it’s a major PITA — but not like losing the Canal.

    And yeah, one nice thing about Marines as guards — consistancy. “A Marine on duty has no friends.” (I’ve seen a Marine get ready to draw on on his OWN CO, because someone left the colonel’s name off the access list by accident. Even good Army troops, faced with the same set of circumstances, would be about 25-50% likely to deviate from procedure.) Give a Marine a set of unambiguous orders, and you can count on the procedures being followed.

  • Which is pretty much what I said, just in more words ;).

    Now, give a Marine a set of ambiguous orders, and you will rue the day…

  • Mark Dietzler

    I remember when my first ship had a MarDet on it. Their OIC was captain of the ship’s wrestling team. They had weapon mounted lights on their Berettas, and drop leg holsters, which was decidedly not a common thing in 1996. Sadly, they departed shortly before our departure for Yokusaka in 1998. I, too, fondly remember the sight of some young Lcpl on the brow, with rifle slung port arms.
    On carrying while at work, I agree with you, and in my case, have it worse. I can document well over 140 hours of formal instruction on handguns alone (My name is Mark Dietzler, and I’m a training junkie. *Hi Mark!*), and likely could out-shoot any of my ship’s “security rovers” without trying that hard.