It also reopened this nation’s unrelenting discourse on gun control.
Today, the more valuable discussion is how America’s courts, law enforcement and mental health systems can keep weapons out of the hands of the mentally ill.
Aaron Alexis, the 34-year-old gunman in the Navy Yard killings, provides a fairly complete picture of how difficult that discussion truly is.
By all accounts, Alexis needed mental assistance. Officials have said that the former Navy reservist had started treatment for his mental problems and, according to the Washington Post, “had exhibited signs of mental illness dating back more than a decade.”
The Post also reported that Newport (R.I.) Police responded to a call at a hotel in August where they found Alexis suffering from hallucinations and saying a person he had previously argued with had sent three people to follow him.
Alexis, however, was never committed to a hospital for his mental problems and was never deemed mentally ill by a judge or by the Navy, despite the fact that he had been receiving treatment from the Veterans Administration.
Thus, the Navy Yard gunman was not reported to the FBI and not placed on the database of those ineligible to buy firearms from licensed dealers. Officials Tuesday said Alexis bought his shotgun legally last weekend in Virginia.
In the clarity of hindsight, it’s obvious that Aaron Alexis should not have had that right.
The Navy Yard massacre is the latest example of a trend America must end. Overwhelmingly, too many of the mass murders now so commonplace in our nation — such as those in Aurora, Colo., and Newport, Conn. — have been committed by gunmen who, even if not committed to a mental facility, needed urgent medical assistance. The best example is Seung Hi Cho, whose 2007 shooting rampage at Virginia Tech University came after he was deemed mentally ill by a judge but went unreported to authorities. Cho killed 32 and wounded 17.
This isn’t about stereotyping of the mentally ill or stripping them of their rights. Their interests, as well as their health, must be protected.
But this is about keeping guns out of the hands of those incapable of making rational decisions about the weapons they hold. As Congress is undoubtedly subjected to more calls for stricter gun-control laws, this aspect of America’s prevalence of mass murders must be front and center.