As we're learning more about Aaron Alexis, the disgruntled and mentally unstable gunman who took the lives of 12 innocent people at the Washington Navy Yard yesterday, the gun control crowd has been predictably quick to jump on the tragedy as a way of calling for more anti-gun legislation.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein issued a written statement, asking for legislative efforts to stop the "litany of massacres." She urged, "Congress must stop shirking its responsibility and resume a thoughtful debate on gun violence in this country. We must do more to stop this endless loss of life."
Dan Gross, president of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, while admitting it was "too early to know what policies might have prevented this latest tragedy," did not think it was too early to resurrect old policy ideas that have already been rejected both by Congress and voters. "We do know that policies that present a real opportunity to save lives sit stalled in Congress, policies that could prevent many of the dozens of deaths that result every day from gun violence," he said in a written statement.
Even the President's spokesman, Jay Carney, suggested yesterday that Obama will continue to push for implementing executive actions to strengthen gun laws in the wake of the Naval Yard shooting.
And of course, it wasn’t long before someone was blaming the NRA. Democratic Rep. Steve Cohen tweeted this tasteless Bill Day cartoon last night.
But it's hard to imagine what legislation the anti-gun crowd will suggest that would have stopped a mentally ill, black Buddhist with a legally-acquired shotgun from slipping into a military installation and stealing what is alleged to be two pistols.
Before you ask, what's his race got to do with this? I'll say nothing as far as I’m concerned...but for others, like Salon's David Sirota, whose column after the Boston bombing was headlined, “Let’s Hope the Boston Marathon Bomber is a White American,” and others still who think only white, right-wing radicals are capable of horrific acts of violence, race seems to be of real interest.
And his religion? Well, when neither fanatical Christianity nor radical Islam can explain an act of terror such as yesterday's, it will likely complicate efforts to ascribe an ideological motive to Alexis’s rampage, something both sides admittedly find useful.
But while his race and his religion will be inconvenient for most liberal gun activists, the more important point is that like most mass shootings of this nature, this one makes for tricky prescriptions around crafting new laws. Or even reinforcing existing ones.
It’s been reported, but unconfirmed, that Alexis tried to purchase an AR-15 before the rampage, but was denied. Whether he failed a background check or was not in compliance with state law, if true the system in this case worked. A person who shouldn’t have a semi-automatic weapon did not get one.
And what he did next proves the irrelevance of most existing gun laws. Criminals find ways around them. In this case, he reportedly stole two handguns from the base he broke into.
He did manage to legally buy a shotgun, however. If there were any intellectual consistency in the gun control movement, the Brady Campaign and others will now call for a ban on shotguns, the weapon commonly used for self-defense, hunting, and sport shooting and a fixture of American gun history. It’s doubtful, though, that they’ll find a single supporter in Congress. Remember, President Obama promised he isn’t going to take away your shotgun, and Vice President Joe Biden told women all over the country to buy one.
The sad fact is that after each and every one of these terrible and inexplicable tragedies, this country wastes all of its oxygen, air time and political capital on a distracting, meaningless, morally negligent debate on gun control, instead of focusing on the one glaringly obvious thing that each incident has in common: mental health.
Aaron Alexis can’t be understood along racial or religious lines, and gun legislation does not stop murderous lunatics from carrying out their plans. But he does fit completely into a very easy pattern and profile of the typical mass murderer – Adam Lanza, James Holmes, Jared Loughner, Seung-Hui Cho, Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris – in that he was mentally unstable.
If we are serious about putting an end to these massacres we must confront two realities. One, it is impossible to completely prevent aberrant events like the Navy Yard shooting. Evil exists and evil can not be 100 percent eradicated. Two, the only meaningful thing uniting these perpetrators is a mental health system that has failed them. Every other conversation is mere misdirection, avoidance and self-interested politicking. That’s the tragedy of these tragedies.
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