Pensacola shooting raises questions about gun rights and foreign policy
The shooting on Friday, 6 December 2019, at a military base in Pensacola, FL by a Saudi officer, two days after an American sailor shot three in Pearl Harbor, causing two deaths, and then killed himself, has once again brought the subject of gun violence to the headlines, raising questions about what causes these attacks and how to stop them.
The attacks drew claims from gun control advocates that if a shooting can happen on a military base, we certainly do not need more guns in more hands throughout general society. The problem with this argument is that the possession of personal weapons on a military base is heavily regulated. The rule prior to 2016 was that only security personnel were allowed to be armed unless on some assignment involving weapons, and now permission to carry is up to the base commander. The base in Pensacola, for example, requires anyone who wishes to carry a firearm to be issued a card by the commander, and no state issued license to carry is honored. Personal weapons must be stored at the installation armory. This policy is one approved of by Lt. Gen. Mark Milley, the Chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who declared his opposition to concealed carry on military bases.
In other words, we have two incidents in gun-free zones, areas where most people — in this case, the ones that gun control advocates acknowledge are trained to use firearms — are disarmed. With all the controls in place on military facilities, it is once again clear that armed attackers will find a way, regardless of the regulations. Leaving potential victims less able to fight back continually misses the mark, and the obsession with imposing more restrictions on guns saps the energy from addressing the causes of these attacks.
What motivated the shooter in Hawaii is not known, but the Pensacola shooter is suspected of having tweeted a message declaring his crime as a retaliation for America’s attacks on Muslims. He is known to have screened videos of mass shootings to three guests days before his attack, and his travel to New York City hints that a much broader of a plot might have been contemplated. The Saudi government has unsurprisingly labeled the attack “barbaric,” offering “sincere condolences,” for all the good that will do.
That the Saudis would weigh in sounds like an expected response of a friendly government, but we should not forget that the majority of 9/11 hijackers were Saudis, and Osama bin Laden was effectively tolerated by the Saudi rulers for decades. More broadly, Saudi Arabia is the home of Wahhabism, a repressive branch of Islam at self-declared war with anyone who does not adhere to the sect’s standards, and the country keeps stirring up regional trouble by attacking Yemen and bickering with Iran.
Critics on the right wing wonder why we would have Saudi officers receiving training on American bases, but this natural for allies to exchange personnel to learn the methods of their friends. But we have to ask if the Saudis really are in an amicable relationship with us, or if they instead are merely taking advantage of the global demand for oil and the American need for someone, anyone who will cooperate with us in the Middle East. The Saudi government does not hold what we claim to be our values — the treatment of women and the murder of Jamal Khashoggi illustrate this — and their status as “not quite as bad as Iran” is dubious. The right wing’s objection about the shooter being a Muslim is not productive. A Bosnian or Kurdish Muslim would be of less concern than nationalist soldiers from Serbia, Russia, or Northern Ireland, no matter how Christian they declare themselves to be. What matters is the purpose to which the soldier in question will put the training that we give.
The conclusion that I draw from incidents like this is that our national policy — whether in regard to personal weapons or foreign relations — is a mess. We would do better at home and abroad to respect individual rights and to act in support of the same, while promoting green energy and international cooperation. These are things that reduce violence. Gun control and militarism, by contrast, have failed.