US asks armed civilians to stand down

Armed civilians have appeared at military recruiting stations following base shooting

Gun-toting citizens are showing up at military recruiting centres around the US. Photograph: Rose Baca/The Dallas Morning News via AP

Gun-toting citizens are showing up at military recruiting centres around the US. Photograph: Rose Baca/The Dallas Morning News via AP

 

Armed civilians who have volunteered to guard military recruiting stations across the US in the wake of the mass shooting in Chattanooga, Tennessee, have been asked to leave their posts.

The Pentagon said in a statement that it took the safety of its enlisted and civilian personnel “very seriously” and that Defense Secretary Ash Carter was reviewing recommendations to improve security at all facilities, including recruiting stations.

The presence of armed civilians, it said, might cause safety problems. “While we greatly appreciate the outpouring of support for our recruiters from the American public, we ask that individuals not stand guard at recruiting offices as it could adversely impact our mission, and potentially create unintended security risks,” said Peter Cook, the Pentagon press secretary.

“We continue to partner with and rely on first responders for the safety of the communities where our service members live and work.”

Civilians - often heavily armed, sometimes dressed in camouflage combat fatigues, and overwhelmingly male - have volunteered to stand guard outside recruiting centers since the shooting July 16th at a military reserve centre and a nearby recruiting center in Chattanooga. Among those killed were four Marines, a member of the Navy and the gunman, Mohammod Abdulazeez. Two people were wounded.

The presence of armed civilians outside recruiting centres, which are often located in strip malls and other commercial areas, has sometimes been a source of alarm. An official said that Friday’s statement asking volunteers to go home was prompted by an “accidental weapons discharge” from a civilian weapon outside a recruiting station in Lancaster, Ohio, the day before.

“We felt it was prudent to issue this statement in order to help potentially prevent other incidents like this from occurring,” the official said.

“The absolute last thing we want is to see any other loss of life.” The Columbus Dispatch reported Friday that one man was charged with a misdemeanor after accidentally discharging an AR-15 rifle outside a recruiting centre in the River Valley Mall in Lancaster at around noon. The owners of the mall ordered the volunteers to leave shortly thereafter, the newspaper reported.

On Facebook, a group of civilians in Cleburne, Texas, who call themselves “Operation Hero Guard” recommended that volunteers who have been “relieved” of their posts by National Guard soldiers should leave the premises and, if they are so inclined, regroup at nearby recruiting stations that do not have military guards.