Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul is working on legislation to allow soldiers to carry guns on military bases, and could introduce it as soon as this week. That could establish him as a leader among conservatives who say last week’s massacre at a Chattanooga, Tennessee recruiting station should change how the military looks at the issue.
“After Major [Nidal] Hasan did the shooting at Fort Hood, we did legislation on arming military on bases,” said Paul, in a roundtable with reporters at his Washington, D.C campaign office. “This was a recruiting station, right? Well, I would include recruiting stations. One of the weird things is that we have 15-20 states where you can open carry. So everybody can carry, except for the military? I think that’s crazy. The rules that apply to everybody should at least apply to the military.”
Paul, who was elected to the Senate a year after Hasan’s 2009 killing spree on the Texas military base, has long favored a policy shift that would allow guns on bases. His new bill may go even further than the versions that followed Fort Hood. In 2013, former Rep. Steve Stockman (R-Tex.) sponsored a Safe Military Bases Act, written to allow guns. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.), one of Paul’s rivals for the Republican Party’s presidential nomination, has used his perch on the Armed Services Committee to ask for hearings on the gun policy.
The killings in Chattanooga have pushed the issue into overdrive. On Monday afternoon, the National Rifle Association called for military recruiters to be armed. In recent days, Republican frontrunners Donald Trump, Jeb Bush, and Scott Walker have all questioned the logic of the gun ban.
“These [members of the military] are people who could have handled guns very easily,” said Trump at a Republican fundraiser in Arkansas. “They would have had a good chance if they had a gun.”
Paul’s commitment to gun rights has a stronger pedigree than Trump’s. He is closely tied to the National Association for Gun Rights, a group that positions itself to the right of the NRA.
“I think guns are a great deterrent anyway,” Paul said on Monday. “I’ve also had bills, for a couple of years now, making it easier to arm pilots. “
In the wake of Chattanooga, Paul has also criticized immigration laws, asking whether they are letting anti-American elements into the country. “I’m very concerned about immigration to this country from countries that have hotbeds of jihadism and hotbeds of this Islamism,” he told Breitbart News reporter Matthew Boyle last week. Paul expanded on those comments Monday, recalling how he had wanted “Rubio’s legislation” – i.e., the stillborn 2013 immigration reform bill – to add screening for potential terrorists.
“We wrote a letter to Harry Reid, saying we should slow the bill down, and have a discussion about putting the National Security Entry-Exit Registration System in,” said Paul. “It gave extra scrutiny to countries that had radical elements that were professing a desire to harm Americans or America. I don’t think it has to say one religion or not, but I think you find out that most of the anti-American movements around the country do seem to be coming from predominately Islamic countries.”
Paul’s call for reform of NSEERS put the PATRIOT Act’s biggest Republican critic in the rare position of endorsing an anti-terror policy enacted by George W. Bush.
“This program was in existence for a decade, and I think we should have more scrutiny," he said. "If a third of [a country's] population is in civil war, and saying 'death to America,' maybe we should ask them a few more questions before they visit. Same goes for student visas.”