As a primary marksmanship instructor in the United States Marine Corps, I taught thousands of America’s warfighters how to safely handle dangerous weapons before deploying overseas to engage with the enemy. As someone who has spent much of my life around firearms, I believe there are lessons Americans should learn from their military.
In the Marine Corps, firearms become part of our DNA, and we have a strong culture of accountability surrounding weapons. Recruits are required to pass a thorough federal background check. Some part of every day during 13 weeks of Marine Corps Recruit Training includes instruction on the safe handling of firearms, with two weeks entirely dedicated to Weapons Safety and the Fundamentals of Marksmanship. Recruits and Marines that break the military’s weapons safety rules or accountability protocols – even accidentally – get severely disciplined. That might include getting tackled on a shooting range for accidentally flagging your battle buddy.
Every Marine requalifies on both marksmanship and firearm safety annually. All branches keep military service weapons locked and secure in the base armory when not in use. Keeping personal firearms in base housing requires Marines to register their weapons, obtain written approval from the installation commanding officer, and follow safe storage protocols.
Even with a strong culture of safety and accountability, Marines still make mistakes with their weapons. The 3rd Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment had two of its rifles go missing during a field exercise in 2019. Their commanding officer got fired. I witnessed negligent discharges, saw bullets loaded backward, and all too often saw loaded weapons accidentally pointed at fellow Marines. If highly trained Marines can make a mistake with a gun, what makes us think the average Joe with an AR-15 isn’t making similar mistakes?
I’m glad to hear that Gov. Katie Hobbs vetoed the Legislature’s recent bad firearms bills that would have allowed parents to carry guns on school campuses and required schools to spread NRA propaganda to children. But now the Legislature needs to pass evidence-based gun safety laws emphasizing personal responsibility to reflect the serious nature of gun ownership.
Almost anyone in Arizona can obtain a five-year concealed weapons permit after only a short online firearm course and a background check. This concealed carry permit allows a person to bypass additional background checks when purchasing a firearm, and firearms dealers aren’t even required to verify the permit’s validity.
Instead of weakening gun safety in Arizona, we should strengthen the training requirements for anybody who wants to carry a weapon in Arizona. Civilian gun owners should be held to the same, if not stricter, safety requirements as military personnel. Doing this would promote responsible gun ownership. More importantly, it would mitigate the risks of sloppy shooting and tragedies caused by negligent discharges and untrained amateurs.
Like the armory on base, guns at home should stay locked in a safe when not in use – or at the very least have a trigger lock. At home, it’s even more important to protect children from the dangers of unfettered access to firearms without the supervision of an adult trained in weapons safety. We must keep guns out of the hands of children.
Secure storage requirements prevent theft – reducing the total number of lost and stolen guns in the underground market linked to violent crimes. Tragically, in a veterans’ community haunted by firearm suicide, we also know that safe storage practices and laws provide another critical way to combat military suicide by putting time and distance between our brother and sister veterans in distress, disrupting their access to a lethal means for suicide.
Just like the fired commander of the 3/6 Marines, if a stolen or lost unsecured gun gets used in a crime or a mass shooting, we need to hold the negligent gun owner legally responsible for not securely storing their weapon.
In this session, gun safety advocates introduced safe storage bills. These efforts failed because Republican legislators didn’t even assign the bills to a committee. Shame on Arizona Republicans in the Legislature for refusing to consider any proposed gun safety policies. Arizona, if you trust your military personnel, take a few lessons from us.
Ricardo Reyes served as a primary marksmanship instructor and helicopter crew chief in the U.S. Marine Corps from 2003-2008.