April 4, 2014 Updated: April 4, 2014 at 8:55 am
Americans endured another tragic mass shooting of military personnel Wednesday when a suspect under treatment for mental illness walked into a building at Fort Hood, Texas, and opened fire. The gunman killed three and hit 16 others, injuring several critically before military police showed up with guns. As these tragedies typically go, the killer took his life the moment he was confronted with force.
The attack comes less than five years after another deranged killer shot up personnel at Fort Hood, killing 13 and injuring 30. It comes seven months after a killer opened fire at the Washington Navy Yard, killing 13. Something has to change.
With one exception in the past several decades, mass shootings in the United States have been committed in "gun-free" zones. Only another gun can stop these crimes, but killers are able to continue shooting until law enforcement arrives from some other location. Even a few extra seconds can enable substantial damage.
We don't know a lot of details about this week's shooting, but we know government doesn't allow civilians or sworn personnel, aside from readily identifiable law enforcement and security guards, to carry open or concealed on base. The rule is based in valid concerns about suicides and the potential actions of young people in varying states of psychological distress after fighting in war.
Shooting sprees are not typically crimes of momentary passion. Most are masterfully planned for months in advance, with killers studying their targets to gain tactical advantage.
The Aurora theater shooter bought equipment for two months in advance of the slaughter. He visited a variety of theaters near his home. After he chose a target, he photographed the layout. He bought tickets for the movie two weeks in advance.
The killer who shot up Sandy Hook Elementary spent two years studying the target. The Columbine murders were planned for months, with two killers gaining detailed knowledge about the nature of the target for the sake of tactical advantage.
Even the most well-prepared mass killer cannot know who, in a targeted crowd, carries a concealed weapon. Alas, he can assume law-abiding individuals - the kind who seek training and law-enforcement certification to carry a gun - comply with rules of "gun-free" zones. We should find a responsible way to remove this predatory advantage.
After the 2009 Fort Hood massacre, the Pentagon tightened military security nationwide. The military issued long-barreled rifles to security guards. It added "insider-attack scenario" training and tried to improve relationships with local law enforcement. It began sharing intelligence with the FBI.
"Obviously when we have these kinds of tragedies on our bases, something's not working," said Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel after Wednesday's shootings.
Perhaps the new measures didn't stop 19 quick rounds because they failed to empower one or more individuals in potentially targeted crowds. Empowered with the right to possess firearms, trained individuals have the potential to stop a crime-in-progress with adequate force. When even one victim has the tool and ability to fight back, a killer may lose seconds, minutes or hours of unchallenged killing time.
If the Pentagon wants to reduce the carnage in future attacks, it should consider giving highly select, well-trained, background-checked and psychologically screened personnel the option to protect themselves and others with concealed handguns.
Rep. Steve Stockman, R-Texas, introduced the "Safe Military Bases Act" after the Navy Yard massacre. It would undo a weapons ban at military bases that began in the 1990s.
The bill may have merit but must be crafted with the intention of avoiding the sanctioned possession of firearms by those who do not meet the highest standards of training and psychological scrutiny. We need a policy that allows guns within instant reach of service men and women who have earned the highest level of trust, and out of the hands of those who might cause harm.