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Firearms counter opens at Keesler exchange

Keesler personnel and retirees stand in line for the firearms and ammunition section grand opening at the base exchange Aug. 1, 2013, at Keesler Air Force Base, Miss.  Acquiring a weapon at the exchange is proceeded by several commander-approved safety measures, and is followed by one of three required actions by the customer to keep the base safe and secure.  (U.S. Air Force photo by Kemberly Groue)

Keesler personnel and retirees stand in line for the firearms and ammunition section grand opening at the base exchange Aug. 1, 2013, at Keesler Air Force Base, Miss. Acquiring a weapon at the exchange is proceeded by several commander-approved safety measures, and is followed by one of three required actions by the customer to keep the base safe and secure. (U.S. Air Force photo by Kemberly Groue)

A Keesler Exchange employee secures weapons by locking the case during the firearms and ammunition section grand opening at the base exchange Aug. 1, 2013, at Keesler Air Force Base, Miss.  Acquiring a weapon at the exchange is proceeded by several commander-approved safety measures, and is followed by one of three required actions by the customer to keep the base safe and secure.  (U.S. Air Force photo by Kemberly Groue)

A Keesler Exchange employee secures weapons by locking the case during the firearms and ammunition section grand opening at the base exchange Aug. 1, 2013, at Keesler Air Force Base, Miss. Acquiring a weapon at the exchange is proceeded by several commander-approved safety measures, and is followed by one of three required actions by the customer to keep the base safe and secure. (U.S. Air Force photo by Kemberly Groue)

Bernie Babauta, Fort Knox, Ky., Exchange firearms counter supervisor, disassembles a hand gun for a customer during the firearms and ammunition section grand opening at the base exchange Aug. 1, 2013, at Keesler Air Force Base, Miss.  Acquiring a weapon at the exchange is proceeded by several commander-approved safety measures, and is followed by one of three required actions by the customer to keep the base safe and secure.  (U.S. Air Force photo by Kemberly Groue)

Bernie Babauta, Fort Knox, Ky., Exchange firearms counter supervisor, disassembles a hand gun for a customer during the firearms and ammunition section grand opening at the base exchange Aug. 1, 2013, at Keesler Air Force Base, Miss. Acquiring a weapon at the exchange is proceeded by several commander-approved safety measures, and is followed by one of three required actions by the customer to keep the base safe and secure. (U.S. Air Force photo by Kemberly Groue)

Tomme Lassabe, 81st Training Support Squadron, is assisted by Holly Allen, Exchange firearms counter senior sales associate, as he looks at weapons during the firearms and ammunition section grand opening at the base exchange Aug. 1, 2013, at Keesler Air Force Base, Miss.  As well as the exchange’s restrictions and policies, customers must comply with a series of required actions, including a background check, age and residency requirements, and receipt of safety documentation when purchasing a firearm.  (U.S. Air Force photo by Kemberly Groue)

Tomme Lassabe, 81st Training Support Squadron, is assisted by Holly Allen, Exchange firearms counter senior sales associate, as he looks at weapons during the firearms and ammunition section grand opening at the base exchange Aug. 1, 2013, at Keesler Air Force Base, Miss. As well as the exchange’s restrictions and policies, customers must comply with a series of required actions, including a background check, age and residency requirements, and receipt of safety documentation when purchasing a firearm. (U.S. Air Force photo by Kemberly Groue)

Staff Sgt. Michael O’Neil, 81st Security Forces Squadron armory NCO in charge, issues a weapon from inside the armory to Staff Sgt. Chris Pousson, 81st SFS, as they follow the safety steps of weapon issue and turn in procedures Aug. 2, 2013, at the 81st SFS building, Keesler Air Force Base, Miss.  The 81st SFS armory keeps weapons, ammunition, shared gear, and stores privately owned weapons for Keesler residents.  (U.S. Air Force photo by Kemberly Groue)

Staff Sgt. Michael O’Neil, 81st Security Forces Squadron armory NCO in charge, issues a weapon from inside the armory to Staff Sgt. Chris Pousson, 81st SFS, as they follow the safety steps of weapon issue and turn in procedures Aug. 2, 2013, at the 81st SFS building, Keesler Air Force Base, Miss. The 81st SFS armory keeps weapons, ammunition, shared gear, and stores privately owned weapons for Keesler residents. (U.S. Air Force photo by Kemberly Groue)

Senior Airman Wes Dworak, 81st Security Forces Squadron, secures weapon racks inside the armory Aug. 2, 2013, at the 81st SFS building, Keesler Air Force Base, Miss.  The 81st SFS armory keeps weapons, ammunition, shared gear, and stores privately owned weapons for Keesler residents.  (U.S. Air Force photo by Kemberly Groue)

Senior Airman Wes Dworak, 81st Security Forces Squadron, secures weapon racks inside the armory Aug. 2, 2013, at the 81st SFS building, Keesler Air Force Base, Miss. The 81st SFS armory keeps weapons, ammunition, shared gear, and stores privately owned weapons for Keesler residents. (U.S. Air Force photo by Kemberly Groue)

Staff Sgt. James Matthews, 81st Security Forces Squadron, and Staff Sgt. Michael O’Neil, 81st SFS armory NCO in charge, complete forms for privately owned weapons registration for storing inside the armory Aug. 2, 2013, at the 81st SFS building, Keesler Air Force Base, Miss.  The 81st SFS armory keeps weapons, ammunition, shared gear, and stores privately owned weapons for Keesler residents.  (U.S. Air Force photo by Kemberly Groue)

Staff Sgt. James Matthews, 81st Security Forces Squadron, and Staff Sgt. Michael O’Neil, 81st SFS armory NCO in charge, complete forms for privately owned weapons registration for storing inside the armory Aug. 2, 2013, at the 81st SFS building, Keesler Air Force Base, Miss. The 81st SFS armory keeps weapons, ammunition, shared gear, and stores privately owned weapons for Keesler residents. (U.S. Air Force photo by Kemberly Groue)

KEESLER AIR FORCE BASE, Miss. -- After nine months of preparation, the 63rd exchange firearms counter opened at the Keesler Exchange Aug. 1 to crowds of customers.

Acquiring a weapon at the exchange is proceeded by several commander-approved safety measures, and is followed by one of three required actions by the customer, every step geared to keep the base safe and secure.

"The exchange had to prove to the commander that we were responsible to handle opening and maintaining a firearms counter," said Bill Buell, the exchange store manager. "The Army and Air Force Exchange Service checked all of our processes, and AAFES has stricter policies on firearm sales than the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, which we are also inspected by."

As well as the mandatory policies on the exchange, its customers are subject to regulations, including an approved background check, and meeting age and residency requirements. All customers receive a packet of safety documentation with their purchases.

"Off-base residents will need to leave base, and with the firearms being non-refundable, customers will have no reason to return to base with their weapons," said Buell. "On base, dormitory residents will head to the armory immediately to turn their weapons in for storage. On-base residents will have their weapons registered with their commander by the next working day."

The 81st Security Forces Squadron armory keeps weapons, ammunition, shared gear, and stores privately-owned weapons for Keesler residents.

"All privately-owned weapons are kept in specific lockers that we aren't allowed to open unless the owner is present," said Staff Sgt. Michael O'Neil, 81st SFS armory NCO in charge. "Every owner is listed on the outer door with their squadron and residency status. Every weapon in storage for more than 30 days is considered long term, and has more paperwork attached, including registration."

If visitors come on base with a weapon, they will let the gate guard know, who in turn notifies the armory, and the visitor proceeds directly to the armory. It is illegal to have firearms on base unless en route to the armory, base residence, or exiting the base.

"Security forces discourages weapons being brought on base due to the time it takes for the visitor to register for temporary storage," said O'Neil. "It'll just be easier on them to leave weapons at home when visiting."

The exchange firearms counter and the armory have similar security measures in keeping weapons locked. Both inventories are checked twice daily, both facilities utilize General Services Administration-approved vault doors to store the weapons, and neither the exchange nor the armory ever leaves weapons unattended.

"There are multiple cameras zoomed in on the counter, all weapons have a trigger lock supplied by the manufacturer of the weapon or AAFES, the weapons are stored at night and never left unattended," said Buell. "Tech school students won't be able to purchase weapons here. Non-Mississippi residents without permanent change of station orders won't be able to buy handguns. All customers are escorted from the building after purchase of firearms. There are countless checks to keep this process safe."