Navy Yard Shooter’s Gun Purchase Was Probably Legal Any Way You Cut It

The weapon Aaron Alexis used in the Washington Navy Yard shooting appears to have been purchased in accordance with current and proposed gun laws

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Navy Yard Shooter Alleged Suspect Aaron Alexis
FBI / Getty Images

Aaron Alexis

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.