WASHINGTON — The suspected gunman in the Fort Hood shooting was not required to have his weapon registered with the military since he lived off post, Army Secretary John McHugh said Thursday.
Soldiers who bring weapons on to Fort Hood, though, are required to register those weapons as soon as they report to the post.
"He lived off post," McHugh said during testimony before a Senate committee. "We try to do everything we can to encourage soldiers to register their personal weapons, even when they live off post. We are not legally able to compel them to register weapons when they reside off post."
Soldiers who live in the barracks are required to keep their weapons in an armory, but those who live off post or in base housing can keep their weapons at home.
Barracks are dorm-like buildings that generally house junior enlisted soldiers. Non-commissioned officers and officers generally live in post housing or off post.
"The minute that soldier brought that weapon onto the post, it was not registered and it was, under our rules and regs, being utilized, obviously, illegally and with not proper clearance or foreknowledge by the command," McHugh said.
The latest Fort Hood policy on personal weapons was issued in a letter dated April 11, 2013.
Soldiers must also declare their personal weapon at the gate if they are coming to use the range or for some other reason, the policy says.
Base security personnel conduct random checks to ensure compliance, said Col. Steve Warren, a Pentagon spokesman.
However, Warren acknowledged that on a post like Fort. Hood with 40,000 soldiers checking every vehicle is not practical.
Fort Hood could not immediately say how many personal weapons were registered with post authorities. But personal weapons are popular among military personnel. Some base exchanges sell handguns and rifles in the sporting goods department. It was not clear if that was the case at Fort Hood.
Soldiers are not allowed to carry concealed weapons on post, said Chris Haug, a Fort Hood spokesman.
At a hearing Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., asked about revisiting policy about prohibiting soldiers from carrying personal arms on U.S. bases, suggesting it might be helpful for self defense.
Gen. Raymond Odierno, the Army chief of staff, disagreed, saying military police carry weapons for law enforcement purposes and that was "appropriate."
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Contributing: Tom Vanden Brook