By Jay Kirell
I can remember clearly the first time I saw it.
It was a few weeks after graduating basic training. I had just arrived at my first duty station. Out in the mid-south, or whatever you call the Kentucky-Tennessee border, my duty station had a few small-to-mid size towns where mostly soldiers, veterans and civilians who made their living selling stuff to veterans and soldiers resided.
The main street that stretched across the border, right up along the entrance gates to the military post, was a collection of mostly three establishments: fast food places, payday loan offices and gun shops.
Of course, there were also Wal-Marts.
Growing up in New York, and especially suburban Long Island, we only really had the fast food places. Even Wal-Mart wasn’t a thing on Long Island back when I was a kid (anyone remember TSS?).
Of course, times change, and while the Wal-Marts and even the payday loan places moved in…the gun shops stayed out, for the most part.
New York just isn’t a gun state. Growing up there, the only people you ever saw with guns were cops…or criminals.
Tennessee and Kentucky, on the other hand…
Well, I was a week into being in Big Army when I did some shopping at the Wal-Mart located on the Kentucky side of the base.
I turned a corner and saw a guy in civilian clothes with a 9mm on his hip.
I turned down an aisle and saw another.
To watch someone walk around a store with a gun strapped to their hip is to see one of two things:
(1) Something as normal to you as a cell phone on someone’s hip.
(2) Someone walking around with explosives tied to their chest.
Of course, by the time I saw the pistol-packing customers I’d pretty much been conditioned to people walking around with guns. I’d spent the last four months in basic training, carrying around a (mostly) unloaded rifle with a few hundred other guys. I’d shot a few thousand rounds at targeted silhouettes. Four months wouldn’t exactly wipe away 31 years of not being around guns, but it was better than nothing.
So while I wasn’t exactly reacting to the armed shoppers like I would someone carrying a cell phone, I wasn’t freaking out about it the way I would if this was Long Island.
After all, I was in an Army town.
Which brings me, in a roundabout way, to the latest instance of tragic violence involving firearms – the shooting at Fort Hood.
As I’ve written previously, it is ridiculously easy to get a gun if you live near an Army town. In addition to there being a ton of gun shops, if you happen to also be active duty, all you need is a copy of your orders and some cold, hard cash and you can walk out that day. No mental health check, no further background review required.
Now, I don’t want to get ahead of myself (though behind others) in speculating about Spc. Ivan Lopez and what his motivations were, what his state of mind was, and what could or could not have been done to prevent the tragedy from occurring.
He was a six-year E-4 who did a short tour in Iraq as a truck driver in the closing days of the war. Some have reported he got the weapon at the same gun shop as Nadal Hassan, the last mass-shooter from Fort Hood.
People will take this limited information and run wild speculating.
Was it PTSD-related? Was it a simple dispute-turned-wrong? Was he the military’s version of a disgruntled employee?
Whatever the answer, the bottom line is that a multitude of innocents are dead or wounded. More soldiers died this week at Fort Hood than died in the entire month of March in Afghanistan.
All because someone who shouldn’t have had a gun, had a gun, and nobody took it away from him before he did something.
From what I understand, pretty much all military bases are (wink wink, nudge nudge) “gun-free zones”. You live in on-post housing, you turn your weapons into the armory. You can be severely punished if you’re found to possess one. Severely.
But first you have to get caught.
And unless there is some huge flashing red flag that sends superiors to someone’s quarters to do a thorough search, nobody is finding any soldier’s secret stash.
And believe me, right now on every military base America there are service members who are stashing weapons illegally in their on-post homes and barracks rooms. Rooms and homes they know won’t be searched.
They might be “inspected” – which is less like the prison guards tossing a prisoners cell and more like a tired father checking their kid’s rooms to make sure at least all the crap is shoved under the bed.
For those wondering what the military’s reaction will be to this latest mass-shooting on one of its bases, well, hate to play spoiler, but nothing will come from this. Military commanders have too much on their plates right now (with budget cuts and transitioning to a post-war military) to instigate post-wide searches for illegal firearms. That is, if the military itself would even allow such searches.
Considering the military’s glacial pace with which they’ve gotten around to addressing post-combat stress and sexual assault, I assume they’ll get around to addressing on-post gun violence sometime around 2030.
Or about 20 mass shootings from now.