They don’t wait for facts to be known, because facts might ruin the narrative. So the news post-Navy Yard massacre has been filled with cries to ban semiautomatic rifles such as the AR-15, initially reported as having been the weapon in the killings. This was before we knew for sure whether such a weapon had been used, and even more importantly, how the perpetrator had obtained it (legally or illegally?).
I can’t say we know for sure even yet what’s what; the fog of mass killings seems even worse lately than the fog of war (case in point: Newtown). But the latest announcement is bad news for the anti-gun crowd: Aaron Alexis is now reported to have used a far more ordinary weapon than an AR-15, a shotgun, and to have obtained it legally.
So unless the next push is to ban shotguns (watch for it), those who would ban weapons such as the AR-15 are out of luck this time. In fact, the use of a shotgun underscores the fact that mass murder can occur with a variety of more conventional weapons; where there’s a will, there’s a way.
The anti-semiautomatic crowd has some recourse even if the shotgun information turns out to be correct. They can ignore it and act as though an AR-15 was actually used. Or they can argue that, if so much damage can be done with a mere shotgun, think how much more could have been done with an AR-15. But what they (and we) should be doing is looking more closely at how Alexis slipped through the cracks despite his mental health problems combined with a history of violence.
We still are not certain what those cracks that he slipped through may have been, either. Did he in fact receive a security clearance, as has also been reported, despite his history? That is extremely troubling, and an echo of previous slip-ups in that arena. What kind of mental health treatment had he gotten? How did security at the Navy Yard allow him to enter with any weapon, much less a shotgun or rifle (did he kill the guard, relatively easily overwhelmed? was there only one guard? how can security be tightened?) And of course, what about the rule that on base only MPs can carry weapons, effectively disarming all others?
Another crack Alexis may have fallen through is the legal system itself. Why, with his history of violent gun assaults, was he never convicted or jailed? In one of the incidents he seems to have really slipped through the cracks (the charges mysteriously disappeared with no record of why); in the other authorities decided not to press charges:
The district attorney’s did not press charges after the incident even though the woman [victim] told police she was “terrified” of Alexis and believed he had fired the gun “intentionally” after calling police several times to complain his neighbour was “being loud”.
“She said that several days ago Aaron confronted her in the parking lot about making too much noise,” the report states.
The authorities said they had accepted Alexis’s explanation that the weapon had discharged accidentally as was “trying to clean his gun while cooking and that his hands were slippery”.
“After reviewing the facts presented by the police department, it was determined that the elements constituting recklessness under Texas law were not present and a case was not filed,” a statement from the District Attorney’s office said.
She said, he said—and he was believed. Perhaps there’s nothing more that realistically could have been done about that, since it was a minor case with no injuries, and police resources are limited. In retrospect, however, it was a warning of much worse things to come.
There is something powerfully revolting and enraging about the image of innocent people being gunned down by a murderer. It is especially ironic to contemplate that in this case it occurred at a Navy base, and yet the weapons that felled the perpetrator seem to have been late in arriving (although we know very little about that, too: was Alexis killed by police, military police, someone else, or by himself?). Focusing on the weapons he carried (or in the case of the AR-15, the weapon he most likely did not carry) is a simple and self-serving approach to a problem that is far more complex and multifaceted. But it comes is no surprise whatsoever.
[ADDENDUM: More here.