The One Thing That Would Have Kept Aaron Alexis From Getting a Gun, But Didn't


The mass-shooting body count climbed another 13 people this week when Fort Worth contractor Aaron Alexis, 34, entered the Naval Sea Systems Command headquarters in Washington, D.C. and he killed 12 and injured 8 before being shot dead himself in a fierce gun battle. A federal law enforcement official told USA TODAY that Alexis was armed with a shotgun and a handgun, and not any semi-automatic weapons. As expected, proponents of the controversial and unfortunately stagnant assault weapons ban have reinvigorated their efforts to limit the ease of accessibility to all munitions.

But seeing as Alexis wasn't carrying any assault weapons, when should the authorities deny the fundamental rights of Americans to have a weapon if they are seemingly unfit to carry it? Clearly a failing U.S. mental health system and the lack of an effective gun regulatory regime are combining to form deadly results.

Alexis, an online student pursing a degree in aeronautics at the Fort Worth campus of Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, had recently been on active duty in the Navy reserve before being discharged for misconduct. The Washington Post added details on Alexis' military misconduct: "[He] was cited at least eight times for misconduct for offenses as minor as a traffic ticket and showing up late for work but also as serious as insubordination and disorderly conduct." Though the serviceman received administrative punishments three times, he had not a single court-martial.

As recently as a month ago he had also sought assistance for mental illness from the Department of Veteran Affairs. Law enforcement officials added that he had reported symptoms of paranoia including hearing voices and sleep disorders, traits that if recognized in court, would have prohibited him from buying a gun in the first place. 

Yet none of these symptoms or previous actions constituted a declaration of mental illness. This allowed Alexis to travel from the nearby Residence Inn to legally purchase at least some of the weapons used in the assault within the past few days in Virginia.

The federal government's primary organ for enforcing gun laws, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (ATF) has not been the greatest overseer of weapons sale and tracking. The administrative neglect that has preceded easy access to weapons is without a doubt a conspiring actor in every gun massacre the nation has seen in the last three years. The Department of Justice Office of the Inspector General claimed that the various improvements in inspection processed embraced by ATF in 2004 have unfortunately still lacked in several areas, including one where "ATF did not meet its goal of inspecting all FFLs [Federal Firearms Licenses] on a cyclical basis, resulting in over 58 % of FFLs not being inspected within five years; ATF did not track whether high-risk FFL inspections met annual operating plan priorities [and] ATF did not ensure that administrative actions were not unduly prolonged after cases moved to Division Counsels for review."

Columnist Jonah Goldberg made his own conclusions, stating that gun-control fans would have an easier time of it if they focused on dangerous gun owners rather than "dangerous guns." While that's all fine and dandy, both the nation's mental health apparatusand the broader state of gun regulations in the U.S. are part and parcel of making sure our citizens are safe. America needs to make sure both are working together to prevent unstable individuals from gaining access to deadly weaponry.