On Monday, I was celebrating my birthday in New York City. During a phone call with my mother that I learned of the shooting at the Washington Navy Yard which took the lives of a dozen people.
I must admit that the first thing that went through my mind was Fort Hood and was this another Nidal Malik Hasan in our midst. But the evidence that has emerged thus far indicates that Aaron Alexis is no Hasan. Indeed, according to Alexis’ father, he had participated in the rescue efforts following the attacks of September 11, 2001. Over the past several years, Alexis had attended a Buddhist Thai Temple in Fort Worth, Texas.
Alexis spent four years in the Navy, but was forced out after discharging his gun at his home in Fort Worth in 2011 although he was not dishonorably discharged. In 2004, Alexis was involved in another incident in which he shot out the tires on the car of a contractor while living in Seattle. Charges were not pressed in either incident.
It had been reported that Alexis had entered the Navy Yard with someone else’s identification, but it now appears that Alexis had been working at the Navy Yard as a civilian contractor. Although the shooting at Fort Hood was characterized as an act of workplace violence when it clearly wasn’t, this incident could actually be a case of workplace violence.
Naturally, there were renewed calls for more gun control. But as with Sandy Hook, more gun control would not have prevented what happened today. As it is, there is tight gun control in D.C. and, as with Fort Hood, neither civilian nor military personnel are allowed to be armed at the Navy Yard. Like Fort Hood, the carnage only stopped after the assailant was shot by police. Hasan was paralyzed while Alexis was killed.
Would arming folks at the Navy Yard have resulted in fewer deaths? Perhaps. Although if police had arrived on the scene it is quite possible they might not have been able to discern between perpetrator and those trying to stop the perpetrator. Under those circumstances, police have to make snap judgments and sometimes they don’t get it right as was the case with the NYPD in Times Square on Saturday night.
Clearly Alexis was a disturbed person and was willing to use firearms in the past even if their use wasn’t directed against people. But unless he had been previously charged there would have been no red flags in his background check.
Now one could certainly ask why Alexis wasn’t given a dishonorable discharge following the gun incident in 2011. It was the last straw in a pattern of unsettling behavior during Alexis’ stint in the Navy. Had Alexis been dishonorably discharged he would not have been permitted to own a gun. On the other hand, gun control laws have never stopped anyone from buying guns illegally. But if Alexis had received a dishonorable discharge would have he been still allowed to work at the Navy Yard as a civilian?
I guess what I am trying to get at is there are no easy answers here. There seldom are when the lives of a dozen people are suddenly and wantonly snuffed out. R.I.P.