AUSTIN, Texas (Reuters) - U.S. lawmakers should look at arming commanders and easing restrictions for carrying weapons on military posts in the United States in the wake of a deadly shooting at the Fort Hood base in Texas, a prominent congressman said on Sunday.
The remarks came as the Fort Hood Army base set up a mental health hotline over the weekend for those who carry emotional scars or feel traumatized after suspected gunman Ivan Lopez, 34 and under psychiatric evaluation, shot dead three people, wounded 16 and then turned the gun on himself in the second deadly rampage at the post in five years.
“We should be looking at the idea of senior leadership at these bases, give them the ability to carry weapons. They defend us overseas and abroad and defend our freedom abroad,” U.S. Representative Michael McCaul, a Republican from Texas and chairman of the House Committee on Homeland Security, told Fox News Sunday.
“So, the idea that they’re defenseless when they come home on our bases, I think Congress should be looking at that and having a discussion with the bases about what will be the best policy,” he added.
The shooting at Fort Hood was the third such incident at a military base in the United States in about six months.
“It requires a review, re-analysis of the force protection policies that we have at our military installations to see how can we better secure them,” McCaul said.
Lopez purchased the weapon used in the shooting, a .45 caliber Smith & Wesson handgun, on March 1 at the same shop near the base where former Army psychiatrist Major Nidal Hasan bought the weapon used in the 2009 rampage at Fort Hood. Hasan shot dead 13 people and wounded 32.
Military officials have defended policies that largely bar private weapons from being allowed on military posts in the country.
“I believe that we have our military police and others that are armed, and I believe that’s appropriate,” Army Chief of Staff Ray Odierno said at a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on Thursday.
Military investigators said Lopez illegally smuggled a weapon onto the base. He then got into a heated argument before using the recently purchased pistol in the shooting rampage.
They did not provide a motive for the killing or the details of the arguments. Friends of Lopez told Reuters last week the soldier had been angry at his commanders for only granting a 24-hour leave to attend his mother’s funeral in Puerto Rico last year.
The Army Criminal Investigation Command declined to comment on Sunday about any developments into its probe conducted with the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Texas Rangers.
White House aide Dan Pfeiffer said on CBS’s “Face the Nation” that President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama would attend a memorial service at Fort Hood on Wednesday.
The new Fort Hood hotline is for those who require “assistance locating behavioral health assistance at Fort Hood or in the surrounding communities.”
It comes after the shooting raised concerns about whether enough is being done to heal the mental scars of those sent into combat areas.
“We have been short of military health professionals in the military just as we are dramatically short throughout the country,” Michael Mullen, the former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told NBC’s “Meet the Press” on Sunday.
Lopez had been battling depression and anxiety, and was being evaluated to see if he suffered from post traumatic stress disorder, military officials said. He had been deployed to Iraq for four months in 2011 but saw no combat, they added.
In Killeen, the city that houses one of the largest U.S. Army bases in the country, churches were crowded with those offering prayers to the wounded and the three people killed: Army Sergeant Timothy Owens, 37, of Illinois, Staff Sergeant Carlos Lazaney Rodriguez, 38, of Puerto Rico, and Sergeant First Class Daniel Ferguson, 39, of Florida.
Additional reporting by Bill Trott, Emily Stephenson and John Whitesides in Washington; Writing by Jon Herskovitz; Editing by Bernard Orr