NC adds MPs, but elsewhere volunteers guard recruiting offices
Posted July 22, 2015 9:02 a.m. EDT
Updated July 22, 2015 6:39 p.m. EDT
COLUMBUS, Ohio — Gun-toting citizens are showing up at military recruiting centers around the country, saying they plan to protect recruiters following last week's killing of four Marines and a sailor in Chattanooga, Tennessee.
The citizens, some of them private militia members, said they're supporting the recruiters, who by military directive are not armed.
"We're here to serve and protect," Clint Janney said Tuesday, wearing a Taurus 9mm handgun as he stood in a parking lot across from a recruiting center on the west side of Columbus. "What the government won't do, we will do."
Similar posts have been set up outside recruitment centers in several cities around the country, including Madison, Wisconsin; Hiram, Georgia; Phoenix; and several sites in Tennessee, including Murfreesboro.
On Tuesday in Raleigh, a man with an American flag and a gun spent time outside a recruiting office, but left before reporters could talk to him.
Sgt. Dwight Henderson, of the Marines recruiting station in Raleigh said, "As much as we appreciate the sentiment, we ask that civilians not do that because it undermines our recruiting operations."
At Cary's Town Center, the National Guard recruiting office was guarded Wednesday by armed military police. A spokesman there said the MPs were being added at offices around the state.
"Appropriate measures are being taken to heighten security," Pam Walker, a spokeswoman for the North Carolina Department of Public Safety, said, but she would not get into specifics.
Several governors nationwide have authorized Guard personnel to carry weapons at state facilities.
In many states, though, the guards have been volunteers, sitting in lawn chairs or standing outdoors, often with a weapon in plain view. In states where it is legal to carry an openly displayed handgun or rifle, the men were not violating any laws.
Employees of a medical supply center next door to the recruiting center in Ohio said they understood the volunteers' intentions but weren't thrilled about their presence. Customers leaving the store said they appreciated the volunteers but thought professional security guards would be better.
"They could just go crazy with the shooting. You just don't know their state of mind," said Kimm McLaughlin, 44, of nearby Grove City.
On Tuesday, the founder and president of Oath Keepers, a Las Vegas-based Constitution activist group made up of current and former veterans and first responders such as paramedics, issued a national call to members to guard centers. Many were already guarding centers in Tennessee, Arkansas and Oklahoma, president Stewart Rhodes said.
Rhodes said it's "absolutely insane" that recruiters aren't allowed to be armed.
"They're sitting ducks," Rhodes said. "They'd be better off if they were walking down the streets of Baghdad, because at least in Baghdad, they could move. Here, they're stationary."
Capt. Jim Stenger, a Marine Corps public affairs officer for the recruiting district that includes parts of seven Midwestern states, said he hopes the gun-toting civilians will go home.
"While we greatly appreciate the support of the American public during this tragedy, we ask that citizens do not stand guard at our recruiting offices," Stenger said in an emailed statement. "Our continued public trust lies among our trained first responders for the safety of the communities where we live and work."
A 1992 Department of Defense directive restricts weapons to law enforcement or military police on federal property, which would include recruiting centers. The U.S. Army Recruiting Command doesn't have a position on the citizens' actions as long as they aren't disrupting the recruiting centers, spokesman Brian Lepley said.
He said that while tragic, such incidents have happened only twice in six years at recruiting centers: in Chattanooga last week, and in Little Rock, Arkansas, in a 2009 shooting that killed one soldier and injured another.
"Recruiting stations need to be out in the public; we need to be out where young people are," Lepley said. Most recruiters are Afghanistan and Iraq war veterans well trained in dealing with shooters, he added.
A group of veterans and their supporters began guarding a Navy-Marine recruiting station in Madison, Wisconsin, on Friday.
"Just civic pride," said David Walters, a 30-year-old Army veteran from Baraboo, north of Madison. "It's good to show that people can still come together."
He took his turn in front of the station Tuesday with Chip Beduhn, a 44-year-old security guard also from Baraboo. Walters said he was carrying a concealed weapon and would be comfortable with violence if someone tried to attack the station.
In Arizona, armed members of Sheriff Joe Arpaio's volunteer posses patrolled Tuesday around Army Reserve offices in Buckeye, about 30 miles west of downtown Phoenix.
The sheriff said he decided to have three posse members patrol after an Army Reserve captain requested extra security. Posse members are patrolling the area just outside the Reserve grounds, but Arpaio said they would enter the property if extra security was needed. The sheriff has used posse volunteers for similar patrols in the past.
In Hiram, Georgia, about 30 miles northwest of Atlanta, a group of four or five people stood outside a recruiting office Friday with their personal firearms as a show of support. They had a pop-up tent, a few lawn chairs and American flags, Police Chief Todd Vande Zande said.
"If it makes them feel better as American citizens and they're not doing anything illegal, then I'm all for it," he said.