The Second Amendment for Troops?
By Nathan Hodge
Tucked away in the fiscal 2012 defense authorization bill that the House passed Thursday is a curious provision: an amendment that would ensure that troops deployed to Afghanistan or Iraq have the “right to bear arms.”
|Rep. John Mica (R., Fla.)|
(Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)
Seem a bit redundant? Rep. John Mica (R., Fla.), who introduced the amendment, insists that it is not.
Rep. Mica said the proposed legislation – what he described as the “little amendment that could” – was a response to front-line troops in Afghanistan who told him they “felt constrained” by the current rules of engagement.
March, Rep. Mica visited Afghanistan as part of a congressional delegation. “You meet with all the big cheeses and generals and everything,” he said. “But … the fascinating part was going to forward operating positions and meeting with some of the troops they brought in.”
As Rep. Mica recalled, he asked troops, “Is there anything I could do to help you do your job better?”
Their unanimous answer? “You’ve got to change the rules of engagement.”
If the amendment becomes law, it would direct the secretary of defense to “ensure that the rules of engagement applicable to members of the armed forces assigned to duty in any hostile fire area … fully protect the members’ right to bear arms; and authorize the members to fully defend themselves from hostile actions.”
The amendment, Rep. Mica said, was not an attempt to “micromanage” the war from Washington.
Rules of engagement are an occasional subject of controversy. U.S. military doctrine emphasizes minimizing the use of force to win over the population from insurgents. But U.S. commanders in Afghanistan last year eased some rules restricting the use of force, in part over concern that some commanders had misinterpreted tactical guidance that discouraged the use of airstrikes or artillery.
Those rules were a source of frustration for some troops. Nonetheless, military rules of engagement typically make it clear that troops always have the right to self defense. As this 2005 “ROE card” from Iraq puts it: “Nothing on this card prevents you from using deadly force to defend yourself.”
A spokesman for U.S. Central Command, the military headquarters that oversees operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, said the amendment, as worded, would likely not change a thing. “Troops always have the right to protect themselves in combat,” the spokesman said.