It is too soon to know why it happened or exactly how it happened. But we know this: A man walked into the Navy Yard in Washington D.C. Monday morning and killed at least 12 people and was himself killed.
We know this, too: It has been widely reported that one of the three guns lying beside Aaron Alexis, the dead shooter, was an AR-15, the same kind of gun used in the Aurora shootings and Sandy Hook shootings.
And this: The shooter was arrested (but not charged) in 2010 for firing his gun through the floor of his Fort Worth apartment, the bullet nearly hitting his downstairs neighbor — a neighbor with whom he had exchanged angry words. Alexis claimed the gun fired accidentally while he was cleaning it. Interestingly, he had not checked to see how the neighbor was when the police came. The neighbor moved out. Alexis was evicted.
And this: The shooter had once been arrested in Seattle for shooting out the tires on a vehicle parked at a construction site near his home. He told detectives he had been “mocked” by workers there and that he had had an anger-fueled “blackout.” The police reports says the shooter’s father told detectives that his son suffered from PTSD from the events of 9/11 when Alexis lived in New York. No charges were filed. Apparently the paperwork was misplaced.
And this: He was discharged from the Naval Reserve for what one official told The Washington Post was “a pattern of misconduct,” including the 2010 shooting. And yet he would go to work for a Navy subcontractor working on computer systems, as if the pattern of misconduct were no longer meaningful. According to the Post, he had clearance and was scheduled to start work at the Navy Yard this month.
And we know this: Not quite a week before the latest mass shooting, two Colorado state senators were recalled in large part because of their votes on a couple of sane, moderate gun-control bills passed in the wake of Aurora and Sandy Hook. People in their districts were apparently sufficiently enraged by the sane, moderate response to mass killings so as to toss the two senators out of office.
We don’t know how or when Alexis bought the guns, whether they were bought legally. Presumably, someone who has clearance to work at the Navy Yard would not be on any do-not-sell list. It is exceedingly difficult, of course, to get yourself on a do-not-sell list.
We know too much. You didn’t have to wonder what the response to the latest tragedy would be. The tears. The grieving families. The vigils. The anger. The search, just beginning in this case, to find a motive for the deaths, as if we hadn’t learned the real lesson of Columbine — that there can never be a single motive.
There would be, of course, calls for new laws. There would be, of course, calls that that calls for new laws are only politicizing the issue.
David Frum, George W. Bush’s former speechwriter and now a conservative CNN pundit, got to it right away. A prominent voice for most gun control laws in the wake of Aurora and Sandy Hook, Frum sent out a series of tweets, early in the coverage, that outraged the gun-rights people. He began by noting sardonically that “In wake of this most recent mass-casualty shooting, it is important that we all respect the feelings of America’s gun enthusiasts.”
He then listed five rules of etiquette, including No. 4 that “Any attempt to stop mass casualty shootings is ‘political.’ Allowing them to continue is ‘non-political.’ “
We saw the politics of guns in Colorado. We saw the first recalls in Colorado legislative history become successful recalls, with pro-gun money battling pro-gun-control money. The recalls were supposed to set off a “wave of fear” for legislators everywhere who would be so bold as to vote for any gun control bills. I’m sure they accomplished all they set out to do.
Still, Sen. Dianne Feinstein said Congress — which took no action on guns after Sandy Hook, after Aurora, after Gabby Giffords — was “shirking its responsibilities.” Meanwhile, many of the statements of condolences from other senators and House members markedly left out any mention of guns or shooting. To mention guns and shooting is to suggest we have a problem with gun violence. And to suggest we have a problem with gun violence is to concede that something should be done to try to solve the problem.
So, now what?
Here’s the tragedy piled onto tragedy: In the wake of another mass shooting, no one is shocked. We are beyond shocked. We are saddened, outraged, horrified — but not shocked. It is too late for that. That is where we are today.
We are, in fact, exactly where we were before.
**Update: There is some confusion as to whether an AR-15 was involved in the Navy Yard shootings. There is no confusion as to whether Alexis brought guns to the Navy Yard and killed 12 people.
[ Image via NPR: The Navy Yard on lock down post-massacre. ]