Can you carry a concealed weapon on military bases? And other Fort Hood questions answered.

Answers to your questions about the news.
Nov. 6 2009 6:37 PM

Fort Hood FAQ

Can you carry a concealed weapon on military bases? And other questions answered.

U.S. Army Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan.
U.S. Army Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan

Army psychiatrist Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan, the only suspect in Thursday's lethal spree at the Fort Hood, Texas, military base, reportedly killed 13 people and wounded 30 before a civilian police officer shot him four times. The incident raises many questions, a number of which we try to answer here.

Do psychiatrists go crazy at higher rates than the general population? Yes, but so do doctors in general. Studies have shown that the suicide rate among male doctors is 40 percent higher than among men overall and that female doctors take their own lives at 130 percent the rate of women in general. No one knows why, exactly, but doctors have abnormally high rates of depression as well as access to drugs that may exacerbate symptoms. Yet few studies have analyzed suicide rates by type of physician, so it's hard to tell whether psychiatrists in particular have higher rates of mental illness than other doctors. One study of female psychiatrists in 2001 did find that 42 percent of the subjects had a family history of depression, as opposed to 28 percent for female physicians in general. Meanwhile, 35 percent of the female shrinks had experienced depression, compared with 18 percent of their physician counterparts.

Can you carry a concealed weapon on a military base? No. People on military bases may own and use guns, but they can't carry them around whenever or wherever they want. Every gun must be registered with the base's provost marshal—the equivalent of their chief of police—and stored in the armory. If they want to use the gun, whether for a military exercise, for leisure time at the on-base shooting range, or for off-base use, they have to check it out from the armory and return it immediately when they're done. Visitors who arrive with guns must leave them with the guards at the gate.

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The only people who can carry guns around a base—concealed or otherwise—are on-duty military police, who handle routine security. They then have to return their guns to the armory when their shifts are over. (The police officer who shot Hasan, Sgt. Kimberly Munley, is a member of the base's civilian police force.) Another exception is for on-duty local or state police officers who come to the base on official business. If they're off-duty or if they don't have official business at the base, they have to leave their guns at the gate. The base's company commander can make other exceptions—say, if a base is under attack or if officers need to carry guns for a special ceremony. But the commander then becomes responsible for anything that happens as a result of his decision.

Hasan is still alive after being shot four times by a police officer. How many times can you be shot and still survive? A lot. The number of times you're shot is, of course, a lot less important than where you're shot. Gunshots to the head and heart are the most fatal by far. The survival rate for gunshot wounds to the head is only about 5 percent. As Slate's Michelle Tsai reported in 2007:

According to unpublished data from the University of Maryland, of 264 such [head gunshot wound] victims from 2000, all but 29 died on the spot. Of the 27 who were accounted for, only 18 made it into an operating room. Eight survived with significant disabilities; 10 had a good recovery.

A shot to any of the great vessels—the femoral arteries in the legs, the jugular vein in your neck, or the branchial arteries in the arms—can also mean a quick death. Otherwise, you have a good chance of surviving. One study of 300 patients with abdominal gunshot wounds found a survival rate of 88 percent.

Hasan told family members that he wanted to be discharged from the Army. How hard is it to get discharged? Very hard. There are plenty of reasons the U.S. military can send you away before your term of service is up, including misconduct, drug abuse, homosexuality, or mental problems. But they're wary of soldiers trying to get discharged in order to avoid fighting. In those cases, the Army might punish a soldier for bad behavior with "punitive retention"—not only must he remain in the military, but he must also pay a penalty.

A soldier can avoid deployment overseas by claiming he's a conscientious objector. But his objection has to be on moral or ethical grounds, not political ones. Even then, there's a long process—he has to conduct an interview with a chaplain, get witnesses to vouch for him, and convince his officers that he's not just trying to weasel his way out of fighting. Army psychiatrists like Hasan would have an especially hard time avoiding deployment, however, since they're in high demand and they don't have to fight.

Hasan's colleagues said he opposed the U.S. invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan. Are soldiers allowed to be anti-war? Yes, but not too publicly. Soldiers can say whatever they want about the war in private—while drinking beers with their buddies, for example. They can also write letters to newspapers or posts online commenting on the war, as long as they don't call special attention to their military status. And they can even attend political rallies as long as they remain spectators—that is, refrain from giving speeches—and don't wear their uniforms. But there are limits on a soldier's First Amendment rights. He may not use language that is deemed "contemptuous" of the president. He's also prohibited from disrespecting or willfully disobeying a superior. Anything not included in these specific restrictions can always fall under the blanket ban on "conduct unbecoming an officer."

Got a question about today's news? Ask the Explainer.

Explainer thanks Philip D. Cave, Glen Gabbard of the Baylor College of Medicine, Robert Levine of the University of Texas School of Medicine at Houston, Gary Slider of Handgunlaw.us, and Michael Welner of the Forensic Panel.

Christopher Beam is a writer living in Beijing.

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