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Political Report: Protecting The Rights Of Those Who Protect Us

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

It`s bitterly ironic that members of our armed forces, who risk life and limb to protect our constitutional rights, might be denied those same rights when they return from the battlefield. Yet it happens all too often. Now, I`m happy to report that your NRA has sought, and achieved, remedies to some of the worst abuses our service members have suffered, through legislation recently passed by the Congress and signed into law.

Certainly, everyone knows that when people join the armed forces they surrender certain privileges. But no government can arbitrarily suspend the natural, fundamental rights guaranteed by our Constitution. Unfortunately, regulations recently proposed at some military installations did just that. And the Department of Defense was on the verge of promulgating similar regulations throughout the armed forces.

But now, Congress has enacted the 2011 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which includes several provisions developed by NRA-ILA and pro-Second Amendment lawmakers. The law will provide practical benefits to gun owners while generating revenue for military bases. Most important, it will protect the privacy and Second Amendment rights of gun-owning military personnel and their families, as well as those of civilian employees of the Department of Defense.

First, the NDAA tackles a problem we`ve heard about many times over the years from NRA members serving in the military. That`s the problem of military base or unit regulations that ban or severely restrict gun possession by service members or their families.

The issue came to a head in 2010 because of a preposterous regulation imposed at Fort Riley, Kan. The Fort Riley regulation required troops stationed there to register privately owned firearms kept off base--as well as firearms owned by their family members residing anywhere in Kansas. It also prohibited soldiers with Right-to-Carry permits from carrying guns for protection off base and off duty, a restriction we`d also seen imposed a few years ago on soldiers stationed in Alaska. Finally, the Fort Riley rules authorized unit commanders to set arbitrary limits on the caliber of firearms and ammunition their troops could privately own.

Similar regulations were imposed on other bases, and DOD was considering a similar rule department-wide. Under DOD`s national plan, military commanders would require troops to register all privately owned firearms kept off base, and would have authorized commanders to require troops living off base to keep privately owned firearms and ammunition locked in separate containers. That requirement may sound familiar; it`s a lot like the one the Supreme Court struck down as unconstitutional in District of Columbia v. Heller.

To address this, section 1062 of the NDAA--championed by Sen. Jim Inhofe, R-Okla.--prohibits the secretary of defense from issuing any requirement, or collecting or recording any information "relating to the otherwise lawful acquisition, possession, ownership, carrying, or other use of a privately owned firearm, privately owned ammunition, or another privately owned weapon by a member of the Armed Forces or civilian employee of the Department of Defense" on property not owned or operated by the DOD. It also requires, within 90 days, the destruction of any existing registration information prohibited by the Act.

Those regulations are now remedied, but the DOD has not limited its problematic initiatives to privately owned firearms. It also began wasting taxpayer money by scrapping perfectly usable fired cartridge cases. Early in 2009, we learned that government sales of fired brass to civilian vendors had been temporarily interrupted. That bureaucratic glitch was corrected quickly, but a year later we learned that some military bases were crushing cases and scrapping them, rather than making them available for sale in reloadable condition.

Section 346 of the NDAA, offered by then-Rep. Brad Ellsworth, D-Ind., solves the problem, specifying that safe and legal surplus ammunition and components "may not be demilitarized or destroyed and shall be made available for commercial sale." This provision should significantly expand the quantity of surplus ammunition components available to commercial reloaders. This will raise money for military bases, while saving money for gun owners.

The NDAA also contains language that encourages military installations to continue allowing public access to base lands for hunting and fishing, and to provide discounted hunting and fishing permits and other accommodations to current and retired military personnel who have disabilities. That language was authored by then-Rep. Adam Putnam, R-Fla., an avid hunter who has since been elected as Florida`s Commissioner of Agriculture and Consumer Services.

I hear from NRA members in the military all the time about a host of issues. All of us at NRA honor their service, and it saddens us when the Pentagon treats them like second-class citizens. Now, we`ve taken some major steps to correct that. Protecting the rights of those who protect us is the least we can do.

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Established in 1975, the Institute for Legislative Action (ILA) is the "lobbying" arm of the National Rifle Association of America. ILA is responsible for preserving the right of all law-abiding individuals in the legislative, political, and legal arenas, to purchase, possess and use firearms for legitimate purposes as guaranteed by the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.