Report: Navy Yard shooter passed federal, state background checks when buying shotgun; Update: RI police warned Naval police?

A scooplet from the Washington Times. If you’re wondering how he managed to slip through the security cracks and gain access to a Navy installation, consider this a clue. Nothing he’d done in the past gave the FBI reason to ding him in buying a gun. Why would the Pentagon have dinged him when he applied to work on government computer systems?


Aaron Alexis easily passed Federal Bureau Investigation and Virginia state background checks to purchase a shotgun from Sharpshooters Small Arms Range in Lorton, Va., over the weekend, The Washington Times has learned.

The retail store put the former Navy reservist’s name through both systems checks before selling him a shotgun and shotgun shells, a source familiar with the transaction said.

Has anyone established yet whether Alexis was ever convicted of a crime? We know of three scrapes with the law so far: The 2004 “shoot the tires” incident in Seattle, which was referred to municipal court but the disposition of which is unclear; some sort of disorderly conduct incident in Georgia 2008, which earned him a temporary demotion from the Navy and a few nights in jail but perhaps nothing else; and the 2010 “shoot through the ceiling” incident in Texas, for which no charges were filed. This guy may very well have had no criminal record, which would explain why he “easily” passed the background check and why he was greenlit to work on a military base.

There was, however, a sign recently that something was amiss:

Six weeks before he killed 12 people at the Washington Navy Yard, Aaron Alexis called police to his hotel room in Rhode Island and said he was hearing voices in the closet and wanted to move to a Navy hotel, police said Tuesday.

Alexis, working as a Navy contractor at the time, made the call Aug. 7 and told police that he had had an argument with three people at the airport, and claimed that they were following him, said Lt. William Fitzgerald of the Newport police.


One of Joe Manchin’s aides told Politico today that he won’t try to use the Navy Yard killings to revive his bill to expand background checks. Why would he if opponents can point to the fact that Alexis himself passed a check to get his shotgun? If gun-control fans are determined to use this shooting to expand the law, the obvious — and perilous — thing to do is push for more aggressive reporting by police and psychologists on someone who’s suspected of mental illness. You could have a legal regime where Rhode Island cops are forced to alert the system when they respond to a call like the one they got from Alexis about hearing voices in the closet. If you want to be more intrusive than that, you could force shrinks to alert the system when they’ve seen someone whom they consider disjointed from reality. (Alexis had sought treatment for his problems, remember, so some sort of professional knew he was having trouble.) Even in Alexis’s case, though, it’s unclear whether there were any signs that he was dangerous; people who hear voices don’t typically shoot up military bases. And why anyone would support a legal regime like the one I’ve described is a mystery to me given how much the public’s already worried about government snooping on them via the NSA. But if you’re serious about stopping violent nuts before they go off, that appears to be the most obvious “solution” — ratchet up the reporting requirements for state actors who come in contact with disturbed people and treat them all as potential threats. And then hope against hope, as public awareness about the new system increases, that this doesn’t have the terrible side effect of discouraging mentally ill people from seeking help for their problems for fear that the “helper” will rat them out to a government database somewhere.


Meanwhile, the White House announced this afternoon that Obama’s ordered a review of security clearances at all federal installations.

Update: Turns out we already do, sort of, having the type of legal regime I mentioned above. And it didn’t stop Alexis:

A Newport, Rhode Island police sergeant reported Navy Yard shooter Aaron Alexis to naval station police last month after the suspect told cops he was “hearing voices” through his hotel room wall and that three people were following him and sending vibrations into his body, according to a police report obtained by…

The sergeant wrote in the report that based on what Alexis told him, “I made contact with on-duty Naval Station Police [officer name redacted.]”

The Naval Station Police official told the sergeant “they would follow up on this subject” and determine if Alexis was, in fact, a naval base contractor.

No comment yet from naval police on what they did or didn’t do with the information.

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