The Second Amendment on Military Bases

A reader asks whether the ban on soldiers’ carrying weapons for self-defense on military bases would violate the Second Amendment. One could equally ask whether bans on carrying on military bases by non-soldiers — civilian employees, soldiers’ friends and family members, and such — would be unconstitutional.

I think the answer to both questions is “no.” The government has very broad authority, and rightly so, over the military and over military bases. Military members, for instance, have very limited Free Speech Clause rights, as do outsiders who want to speak on military bases. Naturally, such analogies go only so far, and one can certainly point to possible distinctions between Free Speech Clause rights and Second Amendment rights here. But my sense is that courts will conclude that the government has nearly unlimited powers over private gun possession by its soldiers (whether on- or off-base) and on its military bases (whether by soldiers or others), and that this is likely the correct conclusion as a matter of constitutional law. (I think banning gun carrying by soldiers on-base is generally bad policy, but here I’m speaking only about the constitutional question.)

For my thoughts on the broader question of gun possession on government property (such as public housing), see pp. 87-91 of my Implementing the Right to Keep and Bear Arms for Self-Defense: An Analytical Framework and a Research Agenda, 56 UCLA L. Rev. 1443 (2009). But that doesn’t deal with the special extra powers that the government has with regard to members of the military, or military bases.