Navy Yard shooting rampage raises concern about security

The gunning down of 12 people Monday morning triggers the question that has become almost pro forma as the number of incidents of this nature keeps increasing: Why?

And when the answer is finally forthcoming, it once again will reveal the senselessness of the rampage — this time in the Washington Navy Yard. According to the Huffington Post, there have been six mass shootings over the past nine months in the United States and at least 20 since Barack Obama became president in January 2009.

The gunman in the Navy Yard, 34-year-old Aaron Alexis of Texas, was killed in a running gun battle with police — but not before the former full-time Navy reservist from 2007 to early 2011 and information-technology employee with a defense contractor opened fire from a fourth-floor overlook, aiming down on people in the cafeteria on the main floor. The bloody attack took place in Building 197, the headquarters for Navy Sea Systems Command, which buys, builds and maintains ships, submarines and combat systems. About 3,000 people work at the headquarters, many of them civilians.

The Washington Navy Yard is a sprawling labyrinth of buildings and streets protected by armed guards and metal detectors. About 20,000 work in the complex.

Because the Yard is a military installation, there was early speculation that it was a terrorist attack. However, Washington Mayor Vincent Gray said there wasn’t any reason to believe terrorism was the motivation for the killing spree.

As details emerged about the attacker, Alexis, it appeared that mental instability was a contributing factor for his anti-social behavior. A month ago, he complained to police in Rhode Island that people were talking to him through the walls and ceilings of his hotel room and sending microwave vibrations into his body to prevent him from sleeping, the Associated Press reported. And yet he was able to buy guns and ammunition a couple of weeks ago.

In September 2010 a neighbor in Fort Worth called police after she was nearly struck by a bullet that came from Alexis’ downstairs apartment. He told police he was cleaning the gun when it went off.

He was arrested on suspicion of discharging a firearm within city limits but was not prosecuted.

Mental health treatment

Alexis had been undergoing mental health treatment from Veterans Affairs since August but was not stripped of his security clearance. He had been suffering a host of serious mental problems, including paranoia and a sleep disorder, and had been hearing voices in his head, officials told the wire service.

President Obama, who has had to express the nation’s collective sympathy in other mass shooting in the U.S., described the victims at the Washington Navy Yard as American patriots. He promised to make sure “whoever carried out this cowardly act is held responsible.”

Alexis’ death does not mitigate his responsibility for taking the lives of 12 innocent people who happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, and for causing such grief and suffering for their families and friends.

His ability to get through the heavy security at the Navy Yard fully armed raises many questions that we trust will be answered as the investigation progresses.

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