How in the world did they let him have a gun? That is the burning question in the minds of the public after discovering all of the red flags in Aaron Alexis’ past. Not long after Alexis slaughtered 12 people at the Washington Navy Yard, news started to trickle out regarding his mental illness and history of violence and drinking. So many are wondering, with that kind of record, how was he able to buy a firearm in Virginia and obtain a permit to carry a loaded weapon in Texas? The answer is: his background check came up clean.
Aaron Alexis’ troubled past went unrecorded.
The facts so far show that Alexis had at least two prior incidents involving gun shootings which should have resulted in criminal charges, but did not. While he was a Navy reservist, there were allegedly many instances of insubordination and disorderly conduct. A former roommate has stated that Alexis was also a heavy drinker. However, the most disturbing reports are that Alexis had recently sought mental health treatment because he was “hearing voices.”
With this kind of history, how did he obtain clearance to work at a military facility in the first place? Better yet, how was he able to buy a firearm and obtain a permit to carry it loaded? The reality is, he was never convicted for the prior gun incidents. Despite his apparent mental issues, he was never involuntary committed or determined by a court to be “mentally defective.” So, there was nothing in his record. This is not uncommon. For example, Seung-Hui Cho, who killed 32 people at Virginia Tech on April 16, 2007, had severe mental issues and there had been an effort to have him involuntarily committed in 2005. If he had been, he would not have been able to buy the weapons he used to kill all those people.
Are background checks the solution?
Background checks are meant to verify that the person attempting to purchase a dangerous weapon, does not have a history of activity that would make them unsuitable for doing so. The Gun Control Act, passed in 1968, actually prohibits anyone from possessing a firearm if they fall into several categories, including convicted felons, fugitives from justice, drug addicts, etc. That law addresses “possession” of firearms. The Brady Law was passed in 1994, and requires background checks for firearms purchased through licensed gun sellers. However, the Brady law does not apply to gun shows or private sales, such as on the internet. A push for legislative change is a priority for many, in light of what appears to be an increase of gun-related violence.
How serious is gun violence in our country?
Of course, there are two sides to every issue. Gun control is no exception. Despite the divergent views, the statistics paint a clear picture. One recent study conducted by the Violence Policy Center shows that, in 12 states and the District of Columbia, more people are being killed by guns than in traffic accidents. It has been predicted in a Bloomberg study that gun deaths will outnumber traffic fatalities as the leading cause of non-medical deaths in the country by 2015. Consider that there are approximately 283 million guns owned by civilians in the U.S. and 4.5 million more are sold each year. During the 10-year period from 1994 to 2004, the average number of guns per owner has also increased from 4.1 to 6.9 percent.
Based on these statistics, gun violence is a serious problem; even more so because violent criminals and the mentally ill can purchase guns without any type of background check. In most states, just about anyone can purchase a firearm at a gun show or flea market with no questions asked. Considering the state of the law on background checks relating to gun purchases, many believe that extending the requirements to all types of gun sales would be help to curb the rise in gun violence. However, in cases like Aaron Alexis, making a background check comprehensive so as to include mental health issues, may difficult, if not impossible. Garance Franke-Ruta, a senior editor at The Atlantic, made a good point:
More than half of Americans experience one or more mental illnesses over the course of their lives, and around 26 percent of Americans over age 18 each year experience at least one, primarily anxiety disorders and mood disorders like depression. The overwhelming majority of them are no danger to anyone at all.
It seems that there is no easy answer to this dilemma, as there are so many factors that lead to mass murder and gun violence in our country. A comprehensive approach may be the only way.