More than regrets needed after D.C. shooting

Twelve people were killed at the Washington Navy Yard on Monday by gunman Aaron Alexis, in yet another go-around of mass killing, followed by lamentation by elected officials, followed by lack of action on gun control or anything else. Police shot and killed Alexis during a gun battle inside the building.

Shots were fired at the Defense Department facility within sight of the Capitol in a city whose mayor, Democrat Vincent Gray, had said after the Newtown killings that “nothing like this could ever happen in Washington D.C.”

Senators who couldn’t bring themselves to vote even for minimal background checks were on lockdown only a few blocks away Monday, unable to leave or enter their own offices – blocked by military vehicles that surrounded the Capitol.

West Virginia’s Democratic Senator Joe Manchin already announced that same day that there were still not enough votes to get his bill passed and not one lawmaker opposed to gun control announced any change in his or her position. Just hours before the shooting, recall elections in Colorado, bought and paid for by the NRA, cost two Democratic lawmakers their congressional seats. Their crime was that earlier this year they supported tighter gun controls.

Proponents of gun control are asking how many more mass killings will have to happen before someone decides to change his or her vote.

It’s not just inaction on gun control that is seen as the culprit in this latest horror show, though. Washington D.C. Mayor Gray is already questioning whether congressional inaction on the sequester has contributed to the mass killing.

Gray is saying that sequestration – the law that cemented these automatic budget cuts across the board into federal agencies – may have resulted in tightening security funds that otherwise would have been spent to keep the Naval Yards more secure. The DOD has had, under sequestration, to cut its budget by $37 billion. While there are certainly $37 billion worth of things that Defense could cut, Mayor Gray, and just about everyone else, knows that the cuts are not going to be aimed first at wealthy defense contractors.

Gray was also concerned about how “someone with a record as checkered as this man could conceivably get clearance to be able to get on the base.” Missouri Sen. Claire McCaskill, a Democrat, wanted to know to what extent the private contractor for which Alexis worked might bear responsibility.

The Pentagon says it is reviewing security practices around the world – hopefully the review will take a close look at the practice of privatizing and hiring contractors to do what U.S. troops and government employees used to do.

Then there is the issue of mental health and the availability of mental health care in this country.

Rhode Island police had apparently warned the U.S. Navy last month that Alexis had called to tell them he was “hearing voices” while on business in Newport. They turned over a copy of their report to the Navy.

Alexis had also been arrested twice, in 2004 and again in 2010 for illegally firing guns.

Background checks the FBI relied on cleared Alexis anyway for entry, with his weapons, into the Navy Yard. Here again, many background checks the government relies upon these days are conducted by private contractors. “I want to know if this background check was done by a private contractor,” McCaskill said to the press.

One thing is clear so far: A number of things came together to contribute to this latest mass shooting. Many of those factors – lack of meaningful gun laws, availability, and quality of mental health care, sequester cuts and widespread use of private contractors in place of government workers – must be dealt with and they must be dealt with soon.

Alexis fired down from a fourth floor atrium into a cafeteria where workers were having breakfast. Some barricaded themselves in conference rooms, others escaped the building altogether. But, 12 ended up paying the ultimate price for failure to deal with the problems mentioned.

Photo: Victims’ family members react to the tragedy and loss of loved ones. Dave Munch/AP


John Wojcik
John Wojcik

John Wojcik is Editor-in-Chief of People's World. He joined the staff as Labor Editor in May 2007 after working as a union meat cutter in northern New Jersey. There, he served as a shop steward, as a member of a UFCW contract negotiating committee, and as an activist in the union's campaign to win public support for Wal-Mart workers. In the 1970s and '80s, he was a political action reporter for the Daily World, this newspaper's predecessor, and was active in electoral politics in Brooklyn, New York.