Could the Washington Navy Yard shooter have been stopped? Would a better system of background checks for firearm purchases have helped? These are just some of the questions which are sure to be asked in the coming weeks after Aaron Alexis killed 12 people at the Washington Navy Yard this week.
In this case we have a man who just days before the shooting was able to pass a federal background check to legally purchase a shotgun. This has raised the question of whether a better system is needed. President Barack Obama is already calling for it. In an interview with Telemundo, the Spanish-language television network, President Obama said after the shooting that “we do not have a firm enough background check system in place”.
The question is would a more vigorous background check system have made a difference? While all the facts are not yet in, there appears to be no evidence that the shooter, Aaron Alexis, had any official record that he might perform such a violent act. It has been revealed that Alexis made trips to two different Veterans Administration (VA) hospitals, according to a statement released by the VA, he never mentioned to them anything other than having insomnia. He also denied, when asked, that he ever intended to harm himself or others.
From what we know it appears that Alexis was suffering with schizophrenia, a mental disease which can cause patients to hear voices, have hallucinations or suffer from delusions among other things. In addition, patients may appear outwardly normal to others, even close family, who may never recognize the disease in the patient. This appears to be the case with Alexis and if he never said anything to the VA doctors they probably would not be able to diagnose him properly. Without a diagnosis this would not show in any background check and, even then, it may not have.
In this case, Alexis also travelled to and worked at different contracting sites around the country, including the Washington Navy Yard, meaning he would not have been with the same people all of the time who may not have realized what normal was for him. Without interaction among employees at these facilities, there would be no indicators of a problem and he could not have been stopped. In an interview broadcast on PBS Newshour, Dr. Elspeth Cameron Ritchie, a former Army psychiatrist, said, “…what I have seen often is in retrospect you can look back and see the problems, but at the time, people were not putting that information together.” This appears to be the case here.
In his recent episode with police in Newport, RI, where he reported hearing voices, being followed and being subjected to micro-waves, the police reported the incident to the Naval Police and Alexis went to seek treatment at the VA hospital in Providence, RI. If the responding police officers determined that he was no threat there would be no grounds for them to either detain him or have him committed; procedures which are part of their training.
Alexis also had other incidents in his past involving shooting firearms, but in these cases there appears there were no signs of mental illness, at least not enough to warrant further investigation. Unlike the Fort Hood shooting, it seems Alexis never had any known ranting and raving episodes which should have caused the Navy to question him.
Once again there will be the usual cry from the gun control activists that something must be done, but short of their ultimate goal, which is to remove all guns from society, and especially law abiding citizens, it seems that stronger background checks would not have stopped the Washington Navy Yard shooting.
Written By: Paul Roy