Shooting Straight with Pete Hegseth

posted on May 23, 2023
Pete Hegseth
Photo left: courtesy of Pete Hegseth; right: Brett Carlsen/Getty

To be truly effective, any nation’s warriors need a clean ethos built upon a profoundly honest philosophy, as anything dishonest in their creed or mission will soon become a crack that will break under pressure in the throes of battle. If soldiers don’t think the cause is good and important, if they don’t think their country has their backs, if they don’t think they are fighting for freedom and that they are good, then it is more likely that they will crumble.

Thankfully, America’s soldiers have long known they are fighting for good, though their morale has been tested—most recently by President Joe Biden’s (D) debacle of a retreat in Afghanistan. Still, for the branches of our armed forces to stay strong, they must simultaneously be held to a high standard and celebrated for their strength and willingness to fight and die for us. And, after they come home and after they’ve served, they must have the support they have earned; this doesn’t mean they should be babied and told they are victims, but it does mean they should be given the tools, the help and the clean principles to not just adjust to civilian life, but to thrive in it.

“I consider myself an advocate for our military. Our military members don’t have enough advocates in the media.” 

Few would disagree with any of that, but it should also be noted that beneath those simple statements is a deep philosophical foundation that also must be kept in repair. A basic part of this foundation is that Americans fight for freedom—and not just for their own—in fact, since they took up arms to fight for independence in 1775, Americans have been armed freedom fighters struggling for their rights and for the liberty of others. 

We don’t call them our “armed forces” for nothing. 

So what happens if a nation disarms those who are serving us? And not just philosophically, which has been happening for some time as the image of our warriors has been weakened, but literally. What happens if this nation treats those who have agreed to fight, and perhaps die, for us as if they are powerless political pawns that an administration can distrust, disarm and disparage? Might this treatment demoralize the men and women in uniform, just as the “defund-the-police” nonsense has so clearly impacted the morale and recruitment of law-enforcement officers?

Those questions aren’t rhetorical. An independent review committee for the Department of Defense (DoD) recently finished a 115-page report on how to prevent suicide. This report included a proposed list of restrictions and bans on the right to keep and bear arms for service members and civilian contractors.

Given this, we decided to ask Pete Hegseth, who is a co-host Fox & Friends Weekend on the Fox News Channel, a Fox Nation host and an Army combat veteran, for his insights into what is happening and what needs to happen to help our military members. 

On Fox Nation, Hegseth is the host of multiple series, including: Modern Warriors, and Untold: Patriots Revealed. He also hosts the Fox Nation Patriot Awards. His most-recent book is Battle for the American Mind. He served as an infantry officer in the Army National Guard in Afghanistan and Iraq. He holds two Bronze Stars and a Combat Infantryman Badge. He also held the position of CEO for Concerned Veterans for America.

So yes, Pete Hegseth has earned his opinions on this topic.

Pete Hegseth, Gen. David Petraeus
Pete Hegseth is shown with Gen. David Petraeus (left) in 2008. In the center, Hegseth is shown in Kuwait, en route to Iraq, in 2005. And right, Hegseth is shown in Iraq in 2005.

In your experience serving at home and abroad in the U.S. Army National Guard, do you think it right, effective or necessary to unilaterally take Second Amendment rights away from those serving, and possibly fighting and dying for, this nation?
Hegseth: This is so counterproductive. The U.S. Armed Forces have long been very risk averse and bureaucratic, but they should not control, or distrust, the volunteers serving us so much that they strip away their Second Amendment rights.

Most of the bases I have served on have banned concealed carry. This never made sense to me. If we can’t trust people who have been recruited, trained to use firearms and entrusted with so much responsibility, then something is very wrong.

A1F: Is the Department of Defense doing enough to help soldiers?
Hegseth: The DoD should be focused on fostering a strong military. Military training should not be a giant therapy session. Our armed forces are there to protect us. They need to win wars and to keep the peace. We can’t train, or even recruit, good soldiers if we weaken that warrior ethos. But, unfortunately, that is exactly what I have seen happening lately. The Biden administration is focused on equity, inclusion and diversity instead of building tough, honorable soldiers. The truth is, the military’s strength is in its shared purpose, values and warrior ethos. Uniforms are not color-coded for diversity. Everyone wearing a uniform is serving, fighting for the same goals.

Especially when serving overseas, there is, and must be, a lot of focus on duty and team cohesion to achieve the mission. It can be stressful. It is demanding. It shapes people. And, as war is hell, soldiers can certainly be impacted. PTSD [post-traumatic stress disorder] is a complicated and individual problem that must be taken seriously. So, okay, the DoD bureaucracy has never been very good at that, but that is not the DoD’s real mission—as I said, they are, or should be, focused on winning wars and keeping the peace. In my opinion, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs needs to do more to help individual soldiers transition back to civilian life. The one-size-fits-all bureaucracy in the VA has often failed at that.

A1F: One recommendation in the report is: “On DoD property, raise the minimum age for purchasing firearms and ammunition to 25 years.” Should 18 to 25-year-old Americans who have raised their right hands to defend this nation, and with it our Constitution, have to give up their constitutional right to keep and bear arms? 
Hegseth: Telling our soldiers that we don’t trust them, which is exactly what this kind of decision would do, is not going to help them. It could convince some quality candidates not to join. It could cause some to hide the fact that they own guns and like to shoot. It would certainly weaken the ideal soldiers should be living up to. It could even demoralize many. Distrusting and disarming our men and women in uniform is a destructive idea that would lead to more problems.

A1F: Another recommendation is to “[d]evelop a national database for recording serial numbers of firearms purchased on DoD property.” In your experience, do you think a database of gun owners might make military bases safer? 
Hegseth: The U.S. Armed Forces have always been about control within its ranks. But, like anything, that control can be taken too far. A national database is a terrible idea. Creating databases of gun owners is a goal of gun-control advocates, but outside of perhaps very hypothetical scenarios, it does not benefit our soldiers. This sounds more like an idea from gun-control zealots in the Biden administration than anything a serious military member would present as a solution.

Pete Hegseth, Vets for Freedom
Pete Hegseth has advocated for our troops in various positions. Between 2007-2012, he was the executive director of Vets for Freedom.

Might these efforts to control and severely restrict the use and ownership of firearms by the very people we are training to use firearms and other weapons to protect us erode their ability to use the tools of their trade? Shooting well, after all, is a craft that, like any other skill, can be further augmented by individual practice.
Hegseth: Many service members, especially those serving in the infantry and the Special Forces, love to shoot. They shoot on their own and in training. This is good. It all builds skills. Disarming them, as these proposals if enacted would do, would undermine this training and erode the critical warrior mentality we need our troops to embody.

The NBA doesn’t recruit players based on some diversity test. They look for the best players, and the best players, no doubt, grew up playing on teams, but they also must have practiced a lot on their own. If you want to get ahead, to be one of the best at anything, you have to dedicate your own time to studying that craft. So yes, those who shoot on their own are developing skills. I own AR rifles. I shoot with my kids. It is fun. Shooting is a challenging skill. Shooting is clearly something that is best done often. Our private ownership of arms is certainly part of the reason why America has long had such good soldiers.

A1F: As some terrorists and sociopaths have committed mass murder on military bases—and, in too many of these cases, disarmed service members were at a disadvantage when attacked in these “gun-free zones”—wouldn’t the strict gun-control recommendations in this report make it possible for more murderers (including terrorists) to target our men and women serving this great nation? 
Hegseth: Yes. This is a real problem. If the DoD is going to so distrust our soldiers so much that they ban them from carrying firearms on base, then military bases can actually become soft targets. There should be ways that soldiers can carry concealed.

Pete Hegseth, Battle for the American Mind book
Pete Hegseth is the author of Battle for the American Mind. He also hosts Fox News shows and various programs on Fox Nation.

Might these controls, gun-owner lists and more convince some service members and contractors to distrust, or otherwise not to tell, their commanding officers or bosses about any firearms they might have off base? Might this harm morale?
Hegseth: This is already a big problem. The Biden administration’s actions—the administration’s withdrawal from Afghanistan, for example, directly led to the deaths of American military members and left billions of dollars’ worth of guns and equipment for the Taliban—have impacted morale and recruitment. Other diversity and equity mandates have also affected military culture in detrimental ways.

A1F: Are you worried that restrictions like these would further stigmatize mental-health issues? Might it even convince some to hide any issues they might have for fear of it leading to the marginalization of their career in the military and that, quite possibly, their rights might be further eroded in the future? 
Hegseth: Right, if a service member asks for help, will this mean they will be placed on a list that will strip away their constitutional right to keep and bear arms? Might they even have their name placed on a secret list to ban them from purchasing firearms? These are real worries. Such treatment would impact morale and it could certainly convince some not to even talk about whatever issues they are facing. That wouldn’t be good for service members or the readiness and capabilities of our armed forces. 

A1F: Given all the pressures that have been applied to the military from the Clinton administration in the 1990s to today’s woke initiatives from the Biden administration, do you think the warrior mentality we need in our armed forces is in jeopardy or are you hopeful that this is a political pendulum that can and will swing back?
Hegseth: I am not sure what the future holds here. I stay very connected to issues impacting our armed forces. I talk about these issues on a lot of Fox News shows and I am writing my next book on this topic. I consider myself an advocate for our military. Our military members don’t have enough advocates in the media. So right, I am not sure what will happen, but by highlighting these problems and talking about what can be done, I am hopeful that a new administration will make policy changes to better help those who serve us.


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