April 1, 2002
Military families on active duty live in a legal gray zone. We frequently and involuntarily move from state to state. Thanks to measures like those found in the Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Civil Relief Act, we are granted a variety of moderating entitlements, such as the right to maintain legal residence outside the state in which we are stationed. This frees us from having to deal with wildly disparate state regulations on everything from income taxes to vehicle licensing every time we receive change-of-station orders.
However, no provisions are made for a family’s right to keep and bear personal arms. Anti-gun furor over the past few years has led to a stifling accumulation of differences among states with respect to firearm rights. Meanwhile, it seems that increasing numbers of military families are living off base, where they are at the mercy of local gun laws. It is time for Congress and President Bush to guarantee our Second Amendment rights.
Those with on-base housing generally can register and store their firearms on base. However, for purposes of purchasing and transferring arms, the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms maintains that service members are residents of the state in which they are stationed. And for purposes of licensing and carrying, we are subject to local firearms laws. There are no provisions for unit commanders to grant permits to buy, possess or carry guns. As a result, many military families find it all but impossible to keep and bear personal firearms.
I arrived in Massachusetts almost two years ago and had to find housing off base. I promptly applied for a firearms permit, which, to this day, is still “in process.” Consequently, I still cannot register my guns with the state, keep them in an off-base domicile, buy new ones or shoot at local ranges. But even with a permit, I would not be allowed to register the new Glock pistol I bought in Texas or any of a large number of other guns restricted in Massachusetts. Perhaps those who live here permanently can wait years for their Constitutional rights to be instated, but military families should not have to endure bureaucratic roadblocks every time they move to a new jurisdiction. Nor should they be forced to reshuffle their gun collections according to the varying whims of local gun-control activists whenever they receive orders.
Another issue that needs consideration is the right of active-duty soldiers to bear personal arms off duty in the same manner as many private citizens. After all, we are trained to bear arms in defense of our country and the Constitution. I have expert ratings on the M-9 pistol and M-16 A2 rifle, and I hold a top-secret security clearance. Yet the whims of local civilian bureaucrats have left me without the right to carry handguns that is enjoyed by many Massachusetts residents. Such disfranchisement affects many service members in many states.
It can take months, even years, to comply with firearms laws in some jurisdictions. Military families don’t have the luxury of that time. Because of the exceptional demands on us, the federal government should offer special provisions to ensure that our Constitutional rights are not abridged. Two practical and straightforward solutions come to mind. One is for the ATF to offer a federal license to purchase, own and carry firearms for military families living outside of their state of legal residence. Alternatively, Congress should authorize military units to grant such licenses to families in their command, regardless of local laws. The right of citizens serving the United States to keep and bear arms should not be infringed upon.
The writer is a program manager for the Global Command and Control System in the Air Force's Electronic Systems Center, Hanscom Air Force Base, Mass.