Tennessee Joins States Seeking More National Guard Protections After Shooting

by | July 20, 2015

By Andy Sher

Gov. Bill Haslam on Sunday ordered a review of security policies at Tennessee National Guard recruiting stations and armories following last week's assault on two U.S. military facilities in Chattanooga that left four U.S. Marines and a sailor dead.

In his directive, the governor told Tennessee Adjutant General Max Haston he wants officials to "take appropriate steps to ensure the safety of Guardsmen, citizens and property."

Haslam also instructed state Safety and Homeland Security Commissioner Bill Gibbons to assess issuing state handgun carry permits to "trained members of the military and to look for ways to streamline" the process.

The move drew praise from state House Majority Leader Gerald McCormick, R-Chattanooga, as well as Sen. Mark Green, R-Clarksville, both U.S. military veterans.

"I'm glad he did it," said McCormick, a U.S. Army veteran who served in the first Gulf War.

Haslam press secretary David Smith told the Times Free Press on Saturday the governor would be consulting with Haston as governors in at least six states ordered changes in their National Guard operations following the Chattanooga shooting rampage by 24-year-old Mohammad Youssef Abdulazeez.

The FBI and Chattanooga police say Abdulazeez attacked a U.S. military recruiting office and a Navy-Marine operations center several miles away. Abdulazeez, who was born in Kuwait and spent most of his life in Hixson, was killed at the second location in a confrontation with Chattanooga police, authorities said. Chattanooga Police Officer Dennis Pedigo was wounded as was an unnamed military recruiter.

Speaking on NBC's "Meet the Press" on Sunday, Haslam said one of the challenges is that many of Tennessee's armories and installations are co-located with U.S. military facilities where different rules apply.

"So we don't want to put our adjutant general in a difficult position of giving them an order that they can't carry out because it's on a federal facility," Haslam said, according to an NBC transcript of the interview. "So we're doing a complete review to see what we can [do]."

Haslam said "we're concerned, obviously. We don't want to leave our folks out there as targets when we've had such a horrible event happen just three days ago."

An act of Congress would "help clear things up," the governor said. "End of the day, it will be a lot better if we have clarity from the federal side."

McCormick later said that in cases where the state can't act because state and federal facilities are located together, "we might look at even having local police officers or troopers provide protection if under federal law or regulations they [Tennessee guardsmen] are not allowed to provide protection."

Green, the former commander of a U.S. Army recruiting center, said he thinks the governor is "doing the right thing." He said he views "the email that was sent to me basically [as saying] the governor has actually directed the adjutant general of the Guard to determine who can be armed and arm them.

"So, he's said, 'Here Army guys, do your job and arm the guys you can legally arm.' There's not a lot else I would ask of him," Green said.

Given that some U.S. and state National Guard facilities are co-located, that's "the best we could possibly do unless we wanted to blow off the federal government," Green added.

As governors in states including Florida, Texas and Louisiana began issuing executive orders on National Guard protections, Haslam came under criticism Saturday from former state Rep. Joe Carr, a tea party-style Republican.

Carr, who now has a radio talk show after running unsuccessfully last year for U.S. Senate and state GOP chairman, cited the Chattanooga tragedy and pointedly challenged the governor.

"The people are waiting for you to step forward and provide the leadership that five other governors have provided to their states. The time for dithering is over."

Haslam's office says the governor has specifically directed Haston to do the following:

* Review current Guard personnel who are authorized to be armed in the performance of their duties, and identify and arm additional Guardsmen where necessary to protect themselves, citizens, and Guard facilities.

* Immediately examine the security of Guard storefront recruiting centers and work with the U.S. Department of Defense to pursue any available opportunities to enhance the safety of those operations within current federal law and regulations.

Haston will also review with the U.S. Department of Defense the "confines of current federal laws and regulations to ensure that facilities in Tennessee are secure."

The governor will work with the Tennessee congressional delegation on "appropriate solutions at the federal level to secure military buildings," the administration says.

On the issue of arming some Guard members, Safety Commissioner Gibbons will "evaluate the process for obtaining handgun carry permits for members of the military who have received appropriate training.

Currently, members of the military don't have to take a state training course if they've had handgun training through their service.

"However," the memo says, "in light of the shootings in Chattanooga and threats to service members, Governor Haslam has asked that alternatives be considered to make the process quicker and easier for military personnel to obtain permits."

Meanwhile, U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais, R-Tenn., has said he intends to introduce a bill in the House today allowing properly trained service members to go armed on U.S. bases.

(c)2015 the Chattanooga Times/Free Press (Chattanooga, Tenn.)