NASHVILLE — After an attack in Chattanooga that led to the deaths of five U.S. service members, Tennessee state officials determined that National Guard members who have carry permits could bring their personal guns to state-owned facilities.
Members with permits may also carry federally issued weapons on federal sites. In either case though, those soldiers will conceal that they’re carrying those weapons, as opposed to carrying them openly, said Maj. Gen. Max Haston, head of the Tennessee National Guard.
“What I don’t want to happen is it to turn into my gun is bigger than your gun; I’ve got a better gun than you’ve got,” Haston said Tuesday after leaving a state legislative hearing.
“Just keeping it low profile. The greatest deterrent that you have out there is a deterrent that is not seen. Makes people keep guessing”
Haston clarified that some service members will wear gun belts, which may be visible. But during the hearing, he said he doesn’t want the guns to become a distraction for guard members.
That didn’t sit well with some of the Republican lawmakers in attendance at the meeting.
State Sen. Janice Bowling said she opposes signs that say guns are prohibited in a building — creating what she called a “gun-free zone” — and likes it when she sees people carrying weapons.
Sen. Mark Green, a military veteran, said he thought it wasn’t right that service members had to go through civilian training to receive a carry permit after they’re trained on weapons in the military.
Haston argued that only a third of National Guard members are trained on handguns, while most are trained on rifles or other weapons. Green believes they still have the necessary knowledge to adequately carry a handgun.
Sen. Richard Briggs, who spent decades as a doctor in the military, disagreed. He said he would feel “uncomfortable” giving a gun to someone who hadn’t trained on how to use that weapon.
Haston also noted there have been both accidental discharges with service members and, in a 2013 incident in Millingon, Tenn., a National Guard member brought a gun to an armory and wounded three people.
Haston provided the same presentation to House lawmakers Monday. In addition to allowing some members to carry guns, he believes installing new security measures such as a high-grade fences or other barriers would go a long way toward making facilities safer.
All of the proposed improvements would cost an estimated $18.2 million.
Lawmakers likely won’t be able to make any changes until they return to Nashville in January for the regular legislative session of the General Assembly.