A Pentagon investigation looking into last year’s shooting at Ft. Hood found that the Department of Defense’s policy on carrying personal weapons on military bases was “inadequate” to protect base personnel. Shooter Maj. Nidal Hasan “had little or no access to military firearms in his job as a psychologist,” but was able to purchase the two handguns he used in the attack, and bring them onto the base without notifying anyone. Per the recommendations of the investigation, the Pentagon is now in the process of adopting a stronger gun policy.
The new policy will likely reflect one adopted at Ft. Hood in December, which requires anyone bringing guns on the base to register them, and calls for soldiers and their family members living on the base to notify their commanding officers and keep their weapons in a unit arms room.
However, Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-OK) believes he knows better than the former Army Secretary and the retired admiral who led the investigation, claiming their recommendations will not “prevent similar heinous attacks in the future,” and that firearm registration is a violation of the Second Amendment. With the proud backing of the NRA, Inhofe is introducing a bill to stop the implementation of the new policy:
This bill protects the second amendment rights of soldiers and DOD civilian employees by prohibiting the DOD from requiring the registration of privately owned firearms, ammunition, or other weapons beyond what is already required by state and federal law. The bill also ensures that second amendment rights are not violated as a result of the DOD Independent Review Related to Fort Hood which calls for a review of DOD privately owned weapons policy.
Inhofe’s bill would still allow the military to restrict gun possession on Defense Department property, but would prohibit registration, claiming it violates service members’ rights. But Inhofe is interpreting the Second Amendment incorrectly. Federal courts have thrown out challenges to mandatory gun registration twice in the past two years, ruling both times that the Second Amendment poses no barrier to registration. Meanwhile, Hawaii has had a gun registration process since 1988 that has survived legal challenges.
Inhofe’s position also places him at the fringe, even among gun control’s most vigorous opponents, as many believe registration is constitutional. Former Chief Justice William Rehnquist — who voted to strike down major gun control laws like the Gun-Free School Zones Act and parts of the Brady bill — once wrote a memo saying there is no “serious legal obstacle” to registration. Eugene Volokh, the libertarian law professor behind the blog The Volokh Conspiracy, noted “that a registration requirement is commonplace among other constitutional rights” — for example, protest organizers may need to register an event to express their First Amendment right — so it shouldn’t be a problem for gun ownership.
Beyond the registration issue, as Rehquist wrote in the majority opinion of Parker v. Levy, “This Court has long recognized that the military is, by necessity, a specialized society separate from civilian society” and thus the rights of service members may be restricted “to meet certain overriding demands.” And as CBS News noted, historians have found records of firearm registrations during the Founders’ time, suggesting they had no problem with it.