In the November 2017 Proceedings, I suggested the Secretary of the Navy implement Section 4 provisions of Department of Defense Directive (DoDD) 5210.56, “Arming and the Use of Force.” Those provisions allow for “carrying of privately owned firearms on DoD property by DoD personnel for personal protection purposes that are not associated with the performance of official duties.” Secretary of the Navy Instruction (SecNavInst) 5500.37 was released in May 2019, but as evidenced by the recent insider-threat terrorist attack at Naval Air Station (NAS) Pensacola, the Navy’s response can be characterized as “too little, too late.”
Why did it take the Department of the Navy (DoN) two and a half years to translate a November 2016 DoD directive into department-level policy? Yes, the DoN had to add specific references to the Naval Criminal Investigative Service and maritime-specific use of force criteria, but the delay smacks of bureaucratic inertia at best, and deliberate slow-rolling at worst.
Likewise, six months after the release of SecNavInst 5500.37, no relevant implementing policy, supplemental guidance, or training materials have been issued by the Chief of Naval Operations (CNO).1 No Navy website articulates how a Sailor or Navy civilian can request to carry a private firearm on base. No standard form exists to make such a request. All these are either specified or implied tasks from the SecNavInst that should have been anticipated three years ago.
Navy arming authorities at the installation level are inconsistent in making decisions “on a case by case basis following deliberate consideration,” as required by the SecNavInst. When that does occur, installation commanders have applied entirely subjective ex nihilo criteria to disapprove Section 4 arming requests, while still conceding that an applicant meets or exceeds every qualification and eligibility criteria specified in both the DoD directive and the SecNavInst.
The required qualification and eligibility criteria are rigorous and exclude younger (under 21) personnel and anyone who has not demonstrated competence with a firearm. The most restrictive wicket is that one must possess either “a Law Enforcement Officers Safety Act (LEOSA) credential, or authorization by the State where the installation is located to carry a firearm.”
As an example, a hypothetical 29-year-old instructor pilot and Florida concealed-carry permit holder (let’s call her LT Parks), assigned to NAS Pensacola, can carry a concealed handgun throughout Florida, but loses her civil rights and ability to protect herself and others on base. Indeed, setting aside carrying a concealed firearm on the flight line or in the classroom, she can’t even leave her private firearm locked in her car on base without permission to “carry.”2 LT Parks is thus also burdened while commuting from her residence to work, picking up a child from daycare, or running errands on the way home. Contrast this with Florida law, which explicitly allows employees to possess and secure firearms in their vehicles while at work.
By instruction, Navy arming authorities should account for the diligence and judgment of civil authorities that issue state permits, as well as law enforcement agencies (to include the Navy itself) that issue LEOSA credentials. In practice, installation commanders discount them entirely “in the interests of security, good order, and discipline.”3 Tell that to the family of Ensign Joshua Watson, the former Naval Academy rifle team captain, who experienced firsthand the lethal results of such good order and discipline.
"This isn’t the first time this happened and if we don’t change something, then it won’t be the last,” said Adam Watson, Joshua’s brother. “My brother was an excellent marksman. If my brother had not had that right stripped from him, this would be a different conversation.”4
Tell that, too, to the instructor pilots whose recent requests for on-base concealed carry were reportedly rejected.5 By failing to accept the de minimis risk of letting highly qualified and vetted Navy personnel carry on base, installation commanders are effectively transferring risk (not just career risk, but death and grave bodily harm) to service members like Ensign Watson.6
Adam Watson is right—the status quo of inaction regarding concealed carry on Navy installations is untenable. Navy senior leaders, including Acting Secretary of the Navy Thomas Modly and Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Michael Gilday, should exercise their authority to squash this administrative slow-rolling, which is costing innocent lives on their bases. So long as the discretion of base commanders (however well-intentioned) effectively nullifies the intent of Congress and explicit direction of civilian DoD and DoN leaders—and thereby deprives DoN personnel of their civil rights—heroic but unarmed sailors will continue to fill body bags.
1. OPNAVINST 5530.14E was updated by Change 3 in November 2017 to remove the requirement for exposure to oleoresin capsicum spray during sustainment training. It was also affected by the release of NAVADMIN 272/17, which implemented the Navy’s Law Enforcement Officers Safety Act. However, the NAVADMIN clearly states that “LEOSA credentials do not permit the carry of concealed privately-owned weapons on Federal installations or where prohibited by federal, state, or local statutes.” https://www.secnav.navy.mil/doni/Directives/05000%20General%20Management%20Security%20and%20Safety%20Services/05-500%20Security%20Services/5530.14E%20W%20CH-3.PDF
2. A classroom or a hangar (in contrast to a privately owned vehicle on base) would likely be considered a “Federal facility” under 18 U.S. Code § 930, and thus subject to an additional layer of scrutiny and legal counsel consultation (as required by DoDD 5210.56) before an arming authority could grant permission to carry. https://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/text/18/930
3. Letter from Commander, Naval Support Activity Washington to the author, dated 20 November 2019.
6. “Concealed handgun permit holders are extremely law-abiding. In Florida and Texas, permit holders are convicted of misdemeanors and felonies at one-sixth of the rate at which police officers are convicted.” See: John Lott, “Concealed Carry Permit Holders Across the United States: 2016” https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=2814691