State reviewing safety measures for Kansas National Guard facilities in response to Chattanooga shootings

Andrew Pupanek, Altoona, left, and Justin Chard, Humboldt, stand outside the U.S. Airforce and Marine Corps recruiting center offices at 23rd and Louisiana Wednesday, July 22, armed with their AR-15 rifles. They drove to Lawrence to show their support and offer protection for the recruiting center in response to last weeks killings at a recruitment center in Chattanooga, TN.

The Kansas National Guard is reviewing safety protocol for its facilities following the July 16 shootings at military buildings in Chattanooga, Tenn., that killed five service members.

Gov. Sam Brownback announced in a press release Wednesday that he “has ordered a full review of security measures” of all National Guard facilities in the state following the slayings by alleged gunman Mohammad Youssef Abdulazeez, 24.

Kansas Adjutant General’s Office spokesman Ben Bauman said that while “safety and security of all Kansas National Guard facilities” have always been important, the recent Chattanooga attacks — one at a military recruiting center and another at a naval reserve center — inspired a second look at current procedures.

“(Safety) was always a priority, but sometimes the environment changes as it did and we look at things a different way,” Bauman said. “It causes us to take a look at what we’re doing and make changes.”

Bauman said that some changes have already been implemented, though he declined to reveal details. He said that further review into security protocol will be an ongoing process.

Brownback and Bauman both said that arming at least select service members within National Guard facilities is an option under review. Currently, National Guardsmen and women in Kansas go unarmed in facilities like recruiting centers. Nationally, many military installations, including recruitment centers, are “gun-free zones,” banning military personnel from carrying firearms on site.

“We will implement security enhancements throughout this ongoing review and assessment as they are identified, including arming additional guardsmen, over and above those security personnel who already carry weapons,” Brownback said in the press release.

Kansas Sen. Jerry Moran on Wednesday introduced legislation to ban “gun-free zones” at military facilities in the U.S. Moran said in a news release that his bill would repeal existing military gun bans and prohibit the president, Department of Defense and military department secretaries “from enacting similar restrictions” in the future.

“The Second Amendment guarantees the ‘right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed,’ yet our men and women in uniform are banned from exercising this constitutional right when fulfilling their duties on American soil,” Moran said. “This infringement … has caused American military installations and (Department of Defense) sites to become increasingly vulnerable to those who wish to do harm.”

But Bauman said a concern with implementing security measures like placing guns in facilities is finding the line between remaining a welcoming environment — especially for potential recruits — while also keeping its service members safe.

“How do you make yourselves accessible and yet secure?” Bauman said. “That’s the big question.”

Bauman said that though Chattanooga is more than 700 miles away, the shootings resonate with Kansans.

“No matter where you are in the country, you hear something like that and it hits home,” Bauman said. “We all feel it, whether we’re involved in the military or not.”

Two such Kansans, Andrew Pupanek, of Altoona, and Justin Chard, of Chanute, were so moved by the events in Chattanooga that they took a day off to protest in front of the Lawrence U.S. Air Force and U.S. Naval recruiting centers at 2223 Louisiana St. Wednesday afternoon.

Armed with AR15 rifles, the two stood guard along the sidewalk of The Malls Shopping Center, where the recruitment centers are, holding signs that read “Arm Our Troops.”

Someone must have found the pair suspicious, because a law enforcement officer was called to check out the situation. After running both men’s IDs and determining no crime had been committed, Chard said the officer let them go with a “Have a nice day.” Kansas is an open-carry state.

Pupanek and Chard, who both had parents in the military, said they got the idea for from other military supporters on social media. Though Pupanek said he did not expect to have to actually use his rifle to confront a potential attacker at the facility, he hoped their presence would send a message.

“We want to let the bad guys know we’re not going to sit down and let them have their way with this country,” Pupanek said. “People are doing it nationwide, and we wanted to show local support.”

Pupanek, who took a vacation day from work for the demonstration, said he believed banning service members from carrying guns inside American facilities was not only unsafe, but absurd.

“If we can trust our soldiers to go overseas and protect us there, we need to trust them here (with weaponry),” Pupanek said.

Bauman said he did not know a timeline as to when a decision would be made on further Kansas National Guard security measures, but said the review of safety matters is ongoing.