Last month, three unarmed service men were killed at a military recruiting center in Tennessee. These men were unarmed because a recruiting center is considered to be a fairly safe area, mostly dealing with paperwork and whatnot. However, the unthinkable happened and the nation is still processing this tragedy.
People deal with tragedy differently. Some choose quiet reflection. Some let their rage show. Others find their own unique way to handle something uncomfortable. In my native West Virginia and neighboring states, a select few have decided to go rogue, whipping out their big guns and standing guard outside of their respective area’s recruiting center.
Public reception to these “guerrilla guardians” has mostly been positive. One simply has to look at my Facebook page after making an insensitive, off-color joke about men carrying large guns. The backlash has been swift; everything from old high school chums telling me they’ve lost all respect for me, a former employer telling me to stop associating with them, and even a fine citizen informing me that he would jump in front of a bullet to protect my (hypothetical) child, but not me.
I think that the excessive and threatening use of firearms outside of our recruiting centers is a bit extreme and potentially unsafe. I am not alone in this opinion, as I have one very powerful organization that agrees with me: the United States Army! A memo they have circulated to recruiting centers tells those present to not speak to the gunmen and treat them as a security threat.
I thought it would be fun to interview these men for my podcast and showed up one morning to speak with them. They ultimately decided against speaking on the record, but I hung out with the Princeton, WV, “brigade” for half an hour and got a little bit of an insight into what they’re doing and why.
I would love to tell you their names, but they refuse to tell me. They insist that what they’re doing isn’t for attention so they choose to remain anonymous. Cue the eye roll. Guns so huge that you have to strap them to your body, standing out in public, waving when passersby honk their horns; they’re not doing this for attention?
One man, when questioning my motives to speak with him, after I said “You can trust me,” referenced the first Gulf War he served in and replied “Do you know how many Iraqis told me I could trust them, then I had to turn around the next day and kill them?” I knew it was rhetorical, but I was so shocked by that statement I meekly said, “I don’t know, how many?”
That same man, when a big truck noisily honked its horn, clutched his enormous gun closer to himself and loudly exclaimed “That scared the hell outta me!”
I spoke to the other man and expressed my concerns with him. I told him that a large gun like that startled me. He got angry and accentuated his words to prove his point: “This is a De-Fens-Ive weapon, not an Off-Ens-Ive weapon.” It still startled me, as did the pistol he had in his back pocket.
With any situation, let’s explore the pros and cons of allowing armed men to stand guard outside of our military recruiting centers.
On a positive note, maybe they’ll actually stop a shooter. I doubt it, but maybe, you never know. It brings to mind an underrated Foo Fighters song: “Stranger Things Have Happened.” Maybe they’ll actually become a hero. At the very least, what these vigilantes are doing is a nice show of solidarity.
Public safety is my chief concern. One has to look no further than Lancaster, Ohio, where a rifle was accidentally discharged by a man standing guard. He was later quoted in The Columbus Dispatch saying, “It is what it is. Nobody got hurt.” Well, at least he can sleep easy tonight.
Another concern of mine is the vetting process to let these guys hang out with their guns. The gentlemen I spoke with were both former military members. This Ohio guy was just a gun enthusiast. He was arrested for discharging his firearm and it was not his first time being arrested for something similar, according to the Dispatch article. Also, a simple Google search will show that one of the public faces of the Charleston, WV, “movement” has had brushes with the law and was arrested in 2011 for burglary.
My question is, where does this end? The people I spoke with said that they would be patrolling “indefinitely.” How far will this go? If they see a robbery or domestic disturbance happening 20 feet in front of them, will they call the police or just walk over with their guns? There was a theater shooting a couple weeks ago. I live near several theaters, why aren’t we guarding Carmike and Marquee?
Why aren’t armed gunmen patrolling our movie theaters? Because that would be absolutely ridiculous. Just like men standing outside of our recruiting centers holding guns.