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Military Recruitment Centers Have A History Of Being Targeted

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

Republican Congressman Duncan Hunter of California, a former Marine, says he plans to push for a bill that would allow troops at recruiting stations to carry firearms. Recruitment centers like the one in Chattanooga are not fortified the way military bases are with gates and armed military police, and this makes them easy targets. Reporter Michael Miller wrote about this in The Washington Post today. He says these centers are vulnerable because of their location in high-traffic civilian areas and because personnel there are usually unarmed.

MICHAEL MILLER: By current military regulation, these recruitment centers, they're generally gun-free zones. Secondly, there are so many of these recruitment centers across the country, and I think when you walk into a recruitment center, you want to be at ease. It's a bit intimidating to see armed soldiers or Marines walking around. So I think, you know, by definition these are places that are meant to put the public at ease and welcome them so they can have conversations and sign up.

CORNISH: Let's talk about the history here. At what point did military recruitment centers in the U.S. appear to become targets?

MILLER: Well, certainly by the last couple years of the Vietnam War they had been targets for protest. In 1973, there were already bombings outside some recruitment centers in Portland, Ore. So really, it was when kind of antiwar sentiments reached its peak that these became symbols, you know, or kind of targets for ire against the war. And clearly, they're kind of symbolic places that for a lot of people encapsulate the U.S. They often have flags or, you know, banners on them calling for service, so it makes sense why they would be viewed as symbols of the U.S. and of the Armed Forces.

CORNISH: What about the perpetrators? In the past, have these been terrorist groups or activists? Can you give us an example?

MILLER: So back in 1973, there was a 63-year-old former college professor who was convicted of conspiring to blow up some of these recruitment centers in Portland. He was allegedly a member of the Black Panthers or a supporter of the Black Panthers. You had in 1986, a neo-Nazi who was arrested and accused of a string of bombings on military recruitment centers. And then you really have different groups from all over the political spectrum who've targeted these centers. In 1988, you had a member of the Japanese Red Army, a communist militia, that planned to attack a recruitment center in Manhattan. And then of course, over the last decade or so, since September 11, there've been a number of attacks carried out by people with ties to Islamic terrorist groups because obviously, they are manifestations of American military power.

CORNISH: Lastly, what's the Pentagon saying about what can be done to better protect these spaces?

MILLER: Well, so far, officials are pointing out that at this recruitment center, despite 30 to 50 bullets being shot through the windows, nobody was actually killed. There was one person that was injured, but the deaths tragically occurred at the reserve center nearby. So officials are saying that while they're reviewing the policies, there's no need to jump to conclusions and automatically arm everyone at these recruitment centers.

CORNISH: Michael Miller is a reporter for The Washington Post.

Michael, thanks so much for speaking with us.

MILLER: Thank you for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.