The Aurora shooting of last summer sparked talk of gun control and brought the AR-15 to center stage. The Sandy Hook shooting, months later, led to a strong but ultimately failed overhaul in efforts to reform legislation. This week’s Navy Yard shooting, however, has yet to revive the debate. Even dialogue among proponents is scarce. Why is this? Why the sudden passivity? Has America already gone numb to this disturbing trend in mass killing, or have we finally just bowed down to the domineering faction of rifle-toting conservatives that is the NRA? Either way; pathetic.
And pathetic without reason, especially this time around. Monday’s massacre, though set apart from recent predecessors in the shooter’s choice of weaponry, comes with a unique context that exploits more bluntly than ever before the weaknesses of current gun laws, weaknesses reformers have warned of for months.
Much has come out, and will continue to come out, about the gunman behind Monday’s attack. His name was Aaron Alexis, 34 years old, born in Queens, New York, traveled a lot. But beyond these basics are details so startling that I can’t imagine even the hardest of gun worshipers not second-guessing their mindless rhetoric. Consider:
In 2004, Alexis was arrested in Seattle for shooting out the tires of another person’s vehicle in what he later described as an anger-fueled “black out.” In 2008, he was arrested in Georgia on “disorderly conduct” charges. In 2010, he was arrested again, this time in Texas, for illegally firing a weapon in city limits. Then, in 2011, he was discharged from the Navy Reserves following a review of eight (internal) citations for misconduct. Alexis’ record alone is a handful of reasons not to sell him a gun, but the cautionary signs don’t end there.
In August, just a month before the shooting, Alexis contacted Rhode Island police, complaining about a trio of men who talked to him through his hotel room’s walls. He said they were sent to harass him by a man he argued with on a flight, that they used “some sort of microwave machine” to send vibrations into his body and disrupt his sleep. The police notified the Navy. Consequentially, Alexis was treated in at least two mental hospitals.
All of this on paper, yet still, on Saturday, Sept. 14, Alexis passed a background check and legally obtained a Remington 870 shotgun.
Two days later, he used it to murder 12 people.
On Dec. 16, 2012, during a vigil for the victims of the Sandy Hook Elementary shooting, Obama said he would use “whatever power this office holds” to prevent future massacres. In the months that followed, several bills toward that effort were born. Of the most promising was the Manchin-Toomey Background Checks Bill. It did not ban any weapons, not even AR-15s, but instead only expanded background checks to include Internet sellers, who currently do not have to perform a background check at all, and tightened the circumstances under which a buyer might be prohibited a weapon. For example, Seung-Hui Cho, the Virginia Tech shooter, would not have been able to buy a gun under this bill. The legislation garnered much support among the American populace, with a Gallup poll showing 65 percent wanted it to pass.
It didn’t. The gun lobby spread direct lies about the bill, lies that have since been thoroughly discredited, and the NRA specifically coerced the Senators they controlled into voting against it. It was a moment of utterly broken democracy, in which a small and extremist faction overruled majority opinion.
The Manchin-Toomey bill would most likely have prevented Alexis from purchasing his Remington 870. Other, stronger sister-bills certainly would have. But would such legislation, even if it prevented him from legally buying a gun, still have prevented the actual shooting?
Those in opposition of gun control say no, say that once a psychopath has set his mind, he will find a way to get a weapon. But this is an arbitrary argument. Stealing is illegal, yet thieves still steal, and laws against it still stand. Just because something is criminalized doesn’t mean people won’t do it. Isn’t the whole point of making laws to enforce them and punish their offenders?
Further, while strengthening background checks is admittedly not a one 100 percent foolproof method of keeping guns away from maniacs, it’s a step in the right direction, and puts both the government and the people it represents on the moral high ground; a place where they can definitively say “we have done everything we can to prevent this.”
But as of now, we haven’t done everything to prevent massacres. We’ve allowed laws to remain lenient, making it extremely easy for even convicted criminals, those suffering from mental conditions, and felons alike to purchase weapons. Aaron is evidence of this. He is a wake up call.
It’s time to stop demonizing gun control, time to stop spreading lies about what it will or will not do, time to stop making petty “but I use it to go hunting” arguments for the AR-15, time to do more than just tweet “pray for #NavyYard.”
It’s time to act. Wake up. Act.
*The views in this article represent the opinion of the author, and not those of CisternYard News.