The U.S. Department of Defense has asked armed citizens to stop standing guard in front of the military recruitment centers across the country.
The armed volunteers first arrived in the immediate wake of the shooting spree in Chattanooga, Tennessee, where four Marines and one Navy sailor were killed, to protect the unarmed recruiters themselves.
"Secretary of Defense Ash Carter is currently reviewing recommendations from the services for making our installations and facilities safer - including our recruiting stations," Pentagon Press Secretary Peter Cook said in the statement released Friday.
"While we greatly appreciate the outpouring of support for our recruiters from the American public," Cook continued, "we ask that individuals not stand guard at recruiting offices as it could adversely impact our mission, and potentially create unintended security risks."
A 1992 Department of Defense directive restricts weapons to law enforcement or military police on federal property. So when Mohammad Abdulazeez sprayed the facade of a Naval Recruiting Reserve Center from his convertible Mustang last week, recruiters had no way of firing back. It wasn't until Abdulazeez rammed the gate at the reserve center seven miles away that law enforcement was able to catch up to the 24-year-old and return fire, killing him.
"It's sad they can't protect themselves," veteran Mike Switalski told the Associated Press Tuesday as he sat outside a military recruitment center in Columbus, Ohio, with an AR-15 assault rifle. In many states, including Ohio, it is legal to carry and openly display a gun.
The Department of Defense on Monday issued a new directive allowing the U.S. military to increase surveillance and implement other measures to boost security at recruitment facilities.
Governors in multiple states across the country — including Ohio's John Kasich on Wednesday — have also authorized National Guard personnel to take up arms to protect recruiting sites.
But that hasn't stopped gun owners from setting up outside recruitment centers in states across the country, including Washington, Georgia, Wisconsin, Texas, Michigan, Arizona, West Virginia, and Tennessee.
On Tuesday, Stewart Rhodes, the founder and president of Oath Keepers — a Las Vegas-based veterans activist group — issued a call to members to guard recruitment centers, calling it "absolutely insane" that recruiters aren't allowed to be armed.
In the last six years, recruiting centers have been the target of two shootings — the one in Chattanooga last week, the other in 2009 in Little Rock, Arkansas, where one soldier was killed and another was injured.
"We're here to serve and protect," said Clint Janney, who wore a Taurus 9mm handgun as he stood near a recruiting center in Columbus. "What the government won't do, we will do."
Some of the armed citizens are part of private militias. Ohio's Franklin County Sheriff Zach Scott said volunteer guards are not violating any laws by hanging outside of the recruiting centers while armed.
However, employees and customers of a medical supply center adjacent to the Columbus recruiting center told the AP that the citizen guards were unsettling and posed a different kind of threat.
"They could just go crazy with the shooting," said Kimm McLaughlin, 44. "You just don't know their state of mind."
But the volunteer guards have their supporters, with some passersby approaching them to say thank you.
In Arizona on Tuesday, a volunteer group patrolled the Army Reserve offices in Buckeye, near Phoenix, after a captain requested extra security.
The group of about five people — equipped with a tent, lawn chairs, and American flags — were not violating any laws, Police Chief Todd Vande Zande told the AP.
"If it makes them feel better as American citizens, and they're not doing anything illegal, then I'm all for it," he said.
In Madison, Wisconsin, David Walters, a former sailor, told NBC News that he decided to ride down from Baraboo because it felt like a way to protect his country.
Chip Beduhn, who also drove down from Baraboo, agreed.
"Those soldiers didn't need to die," he said.
Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker on Wednesday granted his state's National Guard the right to carry weapons while on duty.
The U.S. Army Recruiting Command doesn't have an official position on the armed citizens, spokesman Brian Lepley said.
That has left to mixed reaction not only among the public, but the individual military reserve commands. For instance, unlike in Arizona, Capt. Jim Stenger, a Marine Corps public affairs officer in Minnesota, said he hopes the armed volunteers stop guarding recruitment centers.
"We ask that citizens do not stand guard at our recruiting offices," Stenger said in an emailed statement. "Our continued public trust lies among our trained first responders for the safety of the communities where we live and work."
Michelle Broder Van Dyke is a reporter and night editor for BuzzFeed News and is based in Hawaii.
Contact Michelle Broder Van Dyke at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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