According to multiple news reports, government contractor and former Navy Reservist Aaron Alexis killed 12 people at the Washington Navy Yard on Monday with a shotgun he bought legally from a gun store in Lorton, Va., in nearby Fairfax County, less than 20 miles from the scene of the crime.
But how could someone with a history of misconduct in the Navy and gun-related incidents as a civilian legally purchase a firearm?
To buy the shotgun, Alexis passed Virginia’s criminal-history-record information check, which disqualifies someone from buying a firearm if they have been convicted of a felony, acquitted of a crime by reason of insanity, dishonorably discharged from the military or subjected to a restraining order.
Although Alexis had been arrested for two previous gun incidents — including shooting out the tires of a co-worker’s car, according to information released by the Seattle Police Department — he was not prosecuted in either case. And despite unauthorized absences, insubordination and disorderly conduct during his time as a Naval Reservist, Alexis was granted an honorable discharge under the Early Enlisted Transition Program in January 2011. Even if the Navy had given Alexis a general discharge as it originally sought to do, he would have been able to buy the gun.
Recently defeated federal gun-control measures wouldn’t have stopped Alexis’ purchase either. Legislation co-sponsored by Senators Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania and Joe Manchin of West Virginia in April would have provided grants to states to improve the national crime database and include mental-health records for the seriously mentally ill. But while Alexis’ father told police that his son had anger-management issues and suffered from posttraumatic-stress disorder, there is no evidence that any member of his family sought legal action for his reported mental-health issues.
In other words, neither current nor proposed laws would have blocked Alexis from arming himself.