Friday, September 20, 2013

Tragedy at the Washington Navy Yard

"Shooting at Washington Navy Yard", Around 9:00 a.m. I heard the tragic news on a local radio station. At first I thought that it was just another day in southeast Washington where residents are accustomed to the sounds of gunfire as cars honk on busy streets. But soon nightmare became the reality of another gun relating mass shooting involving a legally purchased gun by a mentally-ill person with a violent history, just 15 miles south of Washington DC. This is a tragic ongoing problem for America. Being a DC suburbs’ resident this heartbreaking incident hit a bit too close to home and too close to the heart.  Who did it? Why did he do it? What was the motive? Was it an individual or was it more than one? All these questions surfaced in my mind.

A lone shooter 34 year old Aaron Alexis, killed twelve people and injured eight others in a shooting rampage in the heart of the world at Washington DC’s secured Navy facility. As details of the incident were emerged, President Obama addressed the situation. "We're confronting yet another mass shooting," he said, "and today it happened on a military installation in our nation's capital.” 

Access to secure facilities, military installations or government buildings is not difficult when it comes to physical security. Practically anyone with one of the Common Access Cards (CAC) issued to troops, DoD employees, and government contractors can enter the secure facility without being checked. Often Contractors and employees with ID cards or CAC cards are allowed to bypass metal detector security gates at the entrance. Contractors can receive three levels of clearance: confidential, secret and top secret. Applicants fill out a very long form to apply for clearance, which asks about any contact with police, charges, and as well as questions pertaining to mental health. Aaron Alexis’s co-workers and the Buddhist monks at his temple claimed that “he was gentle and generally easygoing” but there was a dark side to Alexis. He was treated by the Veteran’s Administration for mental health issues, including paranoia, sleep disorders and hearing voices. Despite a recent history of mental illness Alexis was granted “secret” level clearance.Aaron Alexis successfully passed FBI and State of Virginia background checks to purchase a shotgun at a Lorton firearms dealer. Virginia gun laws only require valid identification for purchase for State residents. Background checks are needed for out-of-state buyers. Although Alexis was investigated by police in Fort Worth and Seattle for firing a handgun in incidents involving disputes with neighbors and, again, in 2010 when he discharged a firearm through a ceiling, he was able to purchase firearms.
 To prevent events like this in the future, the government needs to do some sensible things. Guns laws for buying and selling thought out the nation should be revisited. It should be impossible for people with any mental or criminal history to buy or, for that matter, carry firearms. There should be major efforts and resources directed towards improving mental health care in the country. Finances should be allocated for research and studies to find out what motivates these shooters. The physical security and access to all secure facilities, military installations and government buildings needs to be enhanced. More money should be allocated to enhance security and facility access control. Finally, background checks have to be much stricter to keep felons from gaining unrestricted access to secure facilities.

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