Monday, November 20, 2017
Politics

Gov. Rick Scott orders National Guard recruiters to armories

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TALLAHASSEE — Gov. Rick Scott on Saturday ordered the closing of six storefront National Guard recruiting centers, including two in Tampa Bay, and relocated guardsmen to state armories for their own safety.

Scott's executive order, believed to be the first of its kind of any state, came in response to the shooting rampage Thursday at two military facilities in Tennessee that claimed the lives of four Marines and a Navy petty officer. The gunman, Mohammad Youssef Abdulazeez, 24, a native of Kuwait, was shot dead by police.

Scott acted as several other governors also sought to bolster security for military recruiters.

Scott directed the head of the Florida National Guard, Adjutant General Michael Calhoun, to work with police to make regular security checks of armories, and said the state will make it easier for Guard personnel to get concealed weapons licenses so they can carry guns for protection while working at recruiting centers, a major shift from current policy that federal authorities have questioned.

"We have people in our country that want to harm the military, the ones that are defending our freedom. They need to be safe and they need to be armed," Scott told CNN on Saturday. "We will not reopen our storefronts until we are very comfortable that our guardsmen are safe."

Scott also said the state will consider installing bulletproof glass and video cameras at recruiting centers.

Florida's 55 National Guard armories are state buildings, and only people with concealed weapons permits are allowed to have weapons there. But they have tighter security.

The storefront centers Scott ordered closed include two Hills­borough locations, at 10660 N 56th St., Temple Terrace, and 757 W Brandon Blvd., Brandon.

The others: 1321 SW 107 Ave., Miami; 2931 E Colonial Drive, Orlando; 8622 Baymeadows Road, Jacksonville; and 2141 Loch Rane Blvd., Orange Park.

Col. Glenn Sutphin, director of legislative affairs for the Florida Department of Military Affairs, said Tampa Bay has long been an effective recruiting market for the National Guard, in part because of the presence of MacDill Air Force Base.

"It's just a very good recruiting area," Sutphin said. "We get very good recruits out of there."

About 25 Guard personnel would be affected by Scott's order, Sutphin said. He said recruiting centers have two to four employees each.

The Guard's Temple Terrace recruiting center is in a strip mall near a flower shop and a Pizza Hut, in addition to recruiting offices for the Navy, Air Force and Marines. But only the National Guard is under the command of the governor.

Since 1992, federal policy has prohibited the use of firearms on military installations. Gen. Raymond Odierno, chief of staff for the Army, said after the Chattanooga killings that he was skeptical about changing the policy.

"I think we have to be careful about overarming ourselves, and I'm not talking about where you end up attacking each other," Odierno said. He cited concerns about "accidental discharges and everything else that goes along with having weapons that are loaded that cause injuries."

Governors in at least five other states — Arkansas, Indiana, Louisiana, Oklahoma and Texas — have ordered Guard personnel at recruitment centers to be armed. Tennessee has yet to take action, but pressure is building for officials to protect members of the military from acts of terrorism.

Scott's order came a day after Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal ordered Guard personnel to carry weapons, but a spokesman for Scott said the actions were not related. Scott's chief of staff and a deputy chief of staff are former aides to Jindal.

Florida Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, whose office issues concealed weapons permits, said Saturday that "we look forward to expediting" the applications of Guard personnel.

Guardsmen who previously worked at the six storefronts will report to armories starting Monday and will be there until further notice, said Lt. Justin Phillips, a Guard spokesman.

Phillips said storefronts have no security, but armories have armed guards and require special ID cards to enter.

The aging of Florida's armories has been an issue in the Legislature for years.

The Tampa armory is on the site of the Fort Homer Hesterly Armory on N Howard Avenue, where the building has been in urgent need of renovations.

Scott asked the Legislature for $9.1 million for armory repairs next year and lawmakers agreed to half that amount, $4.5 million, of which at least one-third will be spent in Tampa. Another $2.9 million will be used to match $18 million in federal money to build a new armory in Palm Coast in Flagler County.

"I realize we didn't get all the money, but we're very grateful," Sutphin said.

The Florida National Guard has about 12,000 full-time members. They have been most visible in times of emergency, such as hurricanes and wildfires, but also play a vital role in supporting law enforcement, as they did during the Republican National Convention in Tampa in 2012.

Times staff writers Katie Mettler and Michael Majchrowicz and researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this report, and information from the Associated Press was used. Contact Steve Bousquet at bousquet@tampabay.com or (850) 224-7263. Follow @stevebousquet.

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