Washington Navy Yard gunman Aaron Alexis was able to legally purchase the shotgun he used during Monday's deadly shooting rampage despite multiple gun crime arrests and a history of mental health problems.
Alexis, 34, who was killed by police after he shot dead 12 people at the Washington Navy Yard on Monday morning, had two prior firearms arrests. The Seattle Timesreported that in May 2004, he shot out the tires of a construction worker's car in what he later described to police as an anger-fueled "blackout." According to Alexis, the construction worker had "disrespected" him, causing him to fly into a fit of rage. Alexis claimed he did not remember shooting at the worker's car until an hour after the incident. Investigators referred the case to a municipal court, but the Seattle City Attorney's Office said it never received a police report on the case and charges were never filed against Alexis.
In September 2010, police in Fort Worth, Texas were dispatched to the Oak Hills apartment complex where Alexis resided after a report that someone had fired a single shot from his apartment into the unit of the woman who lived directly above him. Alexis, who often complained about the woman making too much noise, was arrested and booked on suspicion of illegally discharging a firearm, but he was released the following day never charged, according to the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.
The Associated Press reports Alexis also had a history of mental health problems, and was receiving psychiatric treatment in the weeks before the deadly shooting rampage. He had reportedly been hearing voices in his head and had been suffering from paranoia and an unspecified sleep disorder. He was being treated at a Veterans Affairs facility since August, although the Navy did not declare him mentally unfit-- a diagnosis which would have resulted in the revocation of his security clearance.
During police questioning following his Seattle arrest for shooting at the construction worker's car, Alexis claimed he participated in rescue efforts following the September 11, 2001 terrorist attack on the World Trade Center in New York City. His father told police that Alexis suffered from post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) as a result of his 9/11 experiences.
Alexis, a native New Yorker, later joined the Navy Reserves, where he worked as an electrician's mate. His Navy tenure, however, was marred by repeated incidents of misconduct, ranging from drunkenness to insubordination to tardiness to no-shows, the Independentreports. He was honorably discharged in 2011, but only because efforts to give him a less-than-honorable discharge got bogged down in bureaucracy.
Despite Alexis' history of gun arrests and mental instability, he was still able to pass a federal background check when he legally purchased the shotgun he used in Monday's massacre. Although federal law prohibits the sale of firearms by licensed dealers to mentally ill individuals, the law also stipulates that the individual must be involuntarily committed to a mental health facility, or be declared mentally ill by a judge. Alexis did not meet these criteria and was thus able to legally purchase guns.
The Washington Navy Yard massacre once again brought the topic of gun control to the forefront of the national conversation, with President Barack Obama calling on Congress to reconsider gun control legislation in the wake of the deadly tragedy.
"You know, I do get concerned that this becomes a ritual that we go through every three, four months where we have those horrific mass shootings," Obama said in an interview with the Spanish language TV network Telemundo. "Everybody expresses understandable horror. We all embrace the families-- and obviously our thoughts and prayers are with those families right now as they're absorbing this incredible loss. And yet we're not willing to take some basic actions."
"You have a majority of the American people and even a large percentage of Republicans who are ready to move the country forward, and yet we keep on getting blocked," Obama continued.
Indeed, according to numerous polls taken throughout the year, around 90 percent of Americans support expanded background checks on gun purchases.
But Republicans overwhelmingly rejected calls for even modest gun control measures, citing the Second Amendment's prohibition of "infringement" on the "right of the people to keep and bear arms." Some Republican lawmakers sounded a defiant tone in reaction to Democrat calls for gun control measures in the wake of the latest deadly mass shooting.
"12 people tragically killed and self-serving anti-gun extremists trampled each other to beclown and embarrass themselves again. Shameful," tweeted Rep. Steve Stockman (R-TX).