machine gun

U.S. Marine Corps photo by Lance Cpl. Tyler W. Stewart

You know who knows about arming teachers and gun safety? Veterans. Here's what some of them have to say

Matt Saintsing
February 23, 2018 - 2:03 pm

In the week that followed since 17 people were killed when a 19-year old shooter opened fire at a Florida high school, a growing chorus of veterans have offered their thoughts and experiences to guide gun policy discussions.

They’ve been sounding off in the form of Op-eds, twitter hashtags, and blog posts that rail against the easy access American civilians have to weapons of war.

The recent proposal to train and arm some teachers was first mentioned by pundits and news commentators on Fox News, and later pushed by the president on Thursday, but now, may have been the last straw.

“Arming teachers may sound good, but it is a terrible idea,” tweeted VoteVets, a left-leaning veterans group. “It increases the change of kids dying in crossfire, adds to confusion with SWAT teams trying to identify an armed assailant, and greatly increases odds of an accidental shooting.”

With the recent revelation that a trained and armed Broward County sheriff’s deputy idly stood outside Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, some combat veterans are hoping that by sharing their war experiences, they can offer some clarity in this intensely heated debate.

And heated, the debate has been.

While speaking at the Conservative Political Action Conference this week, Wayne LaPierre, the head of the National Rifle Association accused gun control advocates of taking advantage of grief to push for stricter gun regulations.

“As usual the opportunists wasted not one second to exploit tragedy for gain," LaPierre said Thursday. Gun control advocates and the media “hate the NRA, they hate the Second Amendment, they hate individual freedom,” he added.

But, a recent survey of post-9/11 veterans conducted by Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America shows a more nuanced reality.

58 percent said they own guns, and more than two-thirds either support or strongly support open carry laws and 84 percent said they support or strongly support universal background checks. More than 50 percent of the veterans surveyed had voted for Trump.

The survey did not ask how they felt about banning assault weapons.

But, in a blistering op-ed in the Washington Post on Tuesday, three Marine Corps veterans wrote “when it comes to guns, gun violence and the effects weapons of war have on human tissue, we are uniquely qualified to offer expert testimony.”

“Two of us are former NRA members. We resigned in disgust. We have seen the effect guns have on human flesh. We’ve lost friends and brothers and sisters in uniform, seen the torn bodies, the wounds, and carry the scars ourselves.”

Read: Before you have a gun debate, make sure your terminology is correct

And while veterans with combat experience seem to be eagerly stepping up to the plate to offer their suggestions, veterans calling for gun reform is nothing new. Here are some recent examples.

Col. Dean Winslow

Last November, Dr. Dean Winslow, a retired Air Force Colonel whom Donald Trump tapped to be the Pentagon’s top health official, criticized the notion of civilians owning an AR-15.

“I’d also like to, and I may get in trouble with other members of the committee, just say how insane it is that in the United States of America a civilian can go out and buy a semiautomatic assault rifle like an AR-15,” he said during his confirmation hearing.

Gen. Stanley McChrystal

In 2013, retired Gen. Stanley McChrystal—who commanded American special operations worldwide and later all U.S. troops in Afghanistan—called for gun control.

“I think serious action is necessary,” he said on MSNBC’s Morning Joe.

“The number of people in America killed by firearms is extraordinary compared to other nations,” he continued. “And I don’t think we’re a bloodthirsty culture, and so I think we need to look at everything we can do to safeguard our people.”

Gen. David Petraeus and Mark Kelly

Gen. David Petraeus, who served as Obama’s CIA director and commanded troops in both Iraq and Afghanistan, co-founded the gun control advocacy group Veterans Coalition for Common Sense in 2016.

“As service members, each of us swore an oath to protect our Constitution and the homeland,” Petraeus and his co-founder, retired NASA astronaut and Naval aviator Mark Kelly, wrote in a statement. “Now we’re asking our leaders to do more to protect our rights and save lives.”

Kelly is married to former Arizona Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, who was shot in the head outside a grocery store at a gathering to speak to her constituents in 2011.