Indiana is the only state to enlist the NRA’s help in training National Guard members in the use of concealed weapons.

Share story

INDIANAPOLIS — The National Rifle Association (NRA) has been instructing Indiana’s National Guard members on how to use concealed weapons after Republican Gov. Mike Pence directed the state’s military bases and training centers to beef up security in response to recent attacks in Tennessee.

According to a survey by The Associated Press, Indiana is the only state to enlist the NRA’s help in the training, which the gun-rights group says it will conduct free for any guardsman who wants to carry a concealed handgun.

Although National Guard members traditionally have not been allowed to carry weapons while conducting most stateside duties, Pence is one of 14 governors who decided to arm them in the wake of a gunman’s attacks last month on two U.S. military sites in Chattanooga that killed four Marines and a sailor.

Gun-control advocates say it’s inappropriate for a state to involve a political lobbying organization in training members of the military, and some National Guard officials from states that allow guardsmen to carry weapons question why a civilian organization is needed.

“This is a military problem to deal with, so we’re going to deal with it with the military,” said Lt. Col. Joel Lynch, a spokesman for the Arkansas National Guard, which is handling the training of its Guard members.

As governor, Pence has wide-ranging powers over the Indiana National Guard and appoints the adjutant general who oversees operations.

Pence spokeswoman Kara Brooks directed inquiries to the Indiana National Guard. Guard spokeswoman Lt. Col. Cathy Van Bree said Guard instructors have previously offered handgun instruction, but Pence’s executive order last month allowing guardsmen to be armed requires a “deeper level of training.” She did not elaborate.

To be armed, a guardsman must have a valid conceal-carry permit and undergo training. Van Bree declined to say how many members have been approved to be so armed.

Guy Relford, an NRA instructor who recently trained about 65 Indiana guardsmen at an armory in Franklin, said his “basic pistol” course delves into safety scenarios on when and when not to shoot.

Without training, the National Guard has “dramatically increased the possibility that someone could hurt themselves or others with a gun,” Relford said.

The survey of the 14 states that have armed their National Guards shows that most states had members of the military or law enforcement conduct the training.

Although more known for its role as an advocacy group, the NRA also frequently conducts handgun-training programs for civilians. Relford says most Guard members don’t get pistol training from the military, and those who do are taught using the standard 9mm. Pence’s policy applies to a vast array of firearms, ranging from a .22-caliber up to a .357 Magnum.

The Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence criticized Pence for recruiting the NRA, suggesting the organization is “first and foremost” a “lobbying organization.”

“There is no institution better equipped to train our servicemen and women than the U.S. military itself,” Dan Gross, the Brady Campaigns president, said. “This is not a job for lobbyists.”

Responding to the Brady Campaign, NRA spokesman Jeremy Greene said the training offered to the Guard was provided by the NRA Foundation, which is separate from the group’s lobbying wing.