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National

Chattanooga, Tenn., Shootings Prompt Push To Arm Stateside Service Members

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

An impromptu show of support following last week's shootings at the recruiting stations is becoming a common scene around the country - men with pistols and high-powered rifles sweating in the summer sun, acting as self-appointed armed guards. Blake Farmer of member station WPLN reports from Tennessee where volunteers say they will stay as long as it takes.

BLAKE FARMER, BYLINE: They're part protester, part vigilante. They want to change a 1992 federal order that bans most service members from carrying a gun on bases and recruiting offices in the U.S. Organizer Brandon Curran grasps his AR-15 with a high-capacity magazine as he explains.

BRANDON CURRAN: Strange that a civilian can sit outside with this kind of weapon, and they can't even put a handgun on their hip.

FARMER: Like many recruiting stations, this one in Murfeesboro, Tenn., just outside Nashville, is in a strip mall, wedged between a Gold's Gym and Hobby Lobby. A sign taped in the window says no guns allowed.

CURRAN: That's not only people walking in the door. That's people working inside. When those can come down, we will leave.

FARMER: And they're preparing to stay for a while. A couple days in, reinforcements arrive. Some are veterans. Others are part of the Minute Men citizen militias that patrol the border with Mexico. Timothy Pollard isn't part of any group. He walks up and flashes his handgun carry permit.

TIMOTHY POLLARD: I just want you to know I'm trained.

CURRAN: Welcome, man. We've got people coming in and out all day long.

POLLARD: All right.

FARMER: Curran has started to schedule daytime shifts. Pollard volunteers for a four-hour stretch. He says he wants to honor those in uniform, which he argues the Defense Department isn't doing.

CURRAN: You don't honor somebody if you make them a target or a sitting duck.

FARMER: A volunteer with a 9-millimeter pistol on his belt digs through a cooler of donated drinks and grabs some doughnuts that were dropped off. These fellows get some sideways glances from passersby. After all, they're holding what look like weapons of war on a suburban sidewalk. But most in-person reaction has been positive.

CHARLOTTE MASEK: Thank you guys so much for what you're doing.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Thank you.

MASEK: If I could carry a gun, I would.

FARMER: Charlotte Masek stops by and offers to run errands if needed. Sherry Floyd drove 45 miles to drop off a $20 bill. Her son, a Marine, is currently in basic training at Perris Island, S.C.

SHERRY FLOYD: And this is his home recruiter. So I'm very honored, and I get it now when the public is behind what our military is doing. This is the heart and soul of our country - people that will stand up and do what the government finds conflicting.

FARMER: Members of Congress from both parties have proposed lifting the ban so service members can carry weapons while on stateside assignments. Several governors have already acted to arm national guardsmen in storefront locations. A few officers, including a general from Tennessee, have warned against knee-jerk reactions to consider the unintended consequences. As for the recruiters themselves, they've been asked not to weigh in.

CHRISTOPHER CORMIER: Yeah, I'm not going to comment on the weapons policy because that's not something that I'm going to have the ability to change, whether or not I want it to or not.

FARMER: But Christopher Cormier does tip his camouflage cap to the ragtag group of civilians outside his office door.

CORMIER: We love the support that we're getting, and we feel protected. And also, it's important for us, as recruiters and just as military members, to know that our community supports our cause.

FARMER: With that, Cormier turns around and locks the door to his Navy recruiting outpost, a practice now common during business hours following last week's deadly shooting. For NPR News, I'm Blake Farmer in Nashville. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.