SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

September 19, 2013

Our view: Seizing on tragedy to promote an agenda


The Salem News

---- — The shooting of 12 innocent people at the Washington Navy Yard by a former Navy reservist and civilian contractor was a terrible, horrifying event that should outrage us all.

Unfortunately, for some the shooting was an opportunity to shamelessly promote their political agendas, even before the facts of the tragedy were fully known.

California Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein seized the moment to call for a renewal of gun-control efforts previously rejected by Congress. Feinstein, just hours after the shooting, linked it to other recent massacres and asked, “When will enough be enough?”

It is beyond inappropriate to begin advancing a political agenda while the victims of tragedy still lay where they were slain. Prayers for the dead and condolences for their families would be a better response.

It is difficult to see how the kind of gun control Feinstein advocates — expanded background checks and bans on certain styles of rifles — would have made any difference at the Navy Yard. Having chosen to advance her political cause before the facts were in, Feinstein could not have known that the killer, Aaron Alexis, purchased his weapon, a shotgun, at a Virginia gun shop and passed both federal and state background checks.

Nor could Feinstein have known that the type of semi-automatic rifle she particularly opposes — the AR-15 — was not used in the shooting. No gun control measure we’ve heard of is seeking to ban shotguns. In fact, Vice President Joe Biden recommends that homeowners concerned about crime purchase one and fire it out the window a few times in response to a perceived threat.

Early reports that an AR-15 was involved played into the hands of gun-control crusaders. It prompted the New York Daily News to fill its front page Tuesday with a photo of the rifle and the headline “Same gun, different slay” — a reference to the Sandy Hook school shooting that did involve an AR-15.

Rather than ignoring the facts in service of scoring political points, our nation would be better served directing our collective attention to those who actually commit these heinous acts. Seeking answers to some of the questions surrounding these individuals might prove useful.

Alexis, 34, had twice previously been involved in shooting incidents. In neither case was he charged with any crime. Yet, according to reports, the incidents, along with other discipline problems, were enough to prompt the Navy to consider a general discharge from the Reserves for him. But Alexis sought an honorable discharge and the Navy, unwilling to pursue the less desirable general discharge, granted the request, according to the Associated Press.

Alexis had also been treated for serious mental health issues, including paranoia, the AP said. At one point, he reported to police that he had been hearing voices that he believed meant to do him harm.

How was Alexis, with a history of shooting incidents and recent mental illness, able to maintain both his gun permit and a secret-level security clearance? How did he pass the background checks needed to purchase his shotgun. And how was he able to get that shotgun past security at the Navy Yard?

Answering these questions will do more to promote the security of Americans than a politician’s self-serving call for the gun-control legislation she desires.