March 15, 2012
By Robert W. Hunnicutt
British newspaper the Telegraph is reporting that U.S. and British troops were ordered to hand over their personal arms before attending a speech by Defense Secretary Leon Panetta at Camp Leatherneck in Afghanistan. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/asia/afghanistan/9144379/Soldiers-asked-to-disarm-during-Leon-Panetta-speech.html
The British paper quoted Marine Maj. Gen. Mark Gurganus as saying he gave the order because Afghan troops attending the talk were unarmed and he wanted the policy to be consistent for all.
"You've got one of the most important people in the world in the room," he told the New York Times, "This is not a big deal. I wanted to have the Marines look just like their Afghan partners."
The Times (http://www.nytimes.com/2012/03/15/world/asia/panetta-visits-afghanistan-following-massacre.html?scp=1&sq=Gurganus&st=cse#h) quoted Marine Sgt. Maj. Brandon Hall, who told reporters "All I know is I was told to get the weapons out. Somebody got itchy - that's all I've got to say. Somebody got itchy. We just adjust."
The Times said Garganus had decided on Tuesday that no one would be armed while Panetta spoke, but that word had not reached those in charge at Camp Leatherneck until shortly before the defense secretary was due to arrive.
Now, I'm not one to draw broad conclusions from one little news story, but in light of the many incidents where Afghan troops and police have killed their U.S. counterparts, and with tensions high after the recent killing of 16 Afghan civilians by an apparently deranged U.S. soldier, Gen. Garganus' order seems a bit odd.
It may be that Garganus issued the order strictly on his own, and when you are a two-star general, everyone else is going to salute and go carry it out. The general doubtless knows a lot more than the rest of us about the local conditions, and may have had very good reasons for his command.
But when you look at it in the context of Clinton-era rules forbidding troops to be armed on U.S. bases, a lot of gun owners are going to conclude that Democratic politicians don't trust U.S. service members with guns any more than they trust the rest of us.