By HOWARD ALTMAN
The Tampa Tribune
Published: December 01, 2012
There are plenty of guns on MacDill Air Force Base, home to U.S. Central Command, U.S. Special Operations Command and two Air Force wings.
But unlike many military bases across the country, you cannot purchase a weapon there.
That's about to change.
In a few weeks, anyone with a military ID who is eligible to purchase a weapon will be able to do so at The Exchange, the sprawling 67,000-square-foot base mall that sells everything from cat food to computers.
The process to sell guns at MacDill began in the fourth quarter of last year, according to Judd Anstey, public relations manager for the Army and Air Force Exchange Service, which runs exchanges at more than 100 Army posts and Air Force bases around the globe.
The decision was based on "customer demand and the fact that Florida has a lot to offer outdoor enthusiasts," he said. The change had to be signed off on by the base commander, fire marshal and security officer.
The decision to sell firearms at MacDill comes at a time when the military is wrestling with the rising number of suicides in the armed forces.
More than 320 confirmed or suspected suicides have been reported so far this year, according to the Pentagon, surpassing the previous high of 310 in 2009. By comparison, 241 U.S. troops have been killed by enemy forces so far this year, according to icasualties.org.
In 2011, slightly less than half of the approximately 280 suicides involved weapons that were not issued by the military, according to Department of Defense spokeswoman Cynthia Smith.
That fact is not lost on Scott Neil, a retired Green Beret who served as the senior enlisted adviser to the Director of the Interagency Task Force at U.S. Special Operations Command.
Neil, who runs sport shooting events that benefit the wounded, said gun policies on bases are actually more restrictive than those outside the gates.
"It is highly controlled on the base," he said. "As far as fear that Joe the Private walks from the barracks to get a gun and commit suicide, it's the same as if he drove 10 miles downtown to a pawn shop. There are probably less regulations or oversight or issues for him to get a gun cheaply at a pawn shop."
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