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Everyone Together Now: Let’s Talk About Anything But Guns!

By Amanda Marcotte
Wednesday, September 18, 2013 9:27 EDT
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Luckily for the people who never, ever want to talk about using gun control to control who gets guns, there’s an exciting new distraction to talk about: security clearance! As in, how did the guy with a long history of violent mental illness get security clearance? It’s a great card to play whenever someone asks how he obtained weapons with which to murder over a dozen people. Indeed, it got played pretty quickly on me on Twitter, which is how I know this shit is coming. I tweeted:

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I got the usual “don’t take my penis substitute” garbage I usually get: People calling me a “lib” or a “prog” like that’s an argument, whining, threats to unfollow like I want to be followed by gun nuts, etc. But one got my spidey sense tingling. Sometimes you can just tell this is the one that’s going to work its way up into the mainstream media and become the way for conservatives to shut down any discourse about gun control or the gun industry’s ability to profit from selling murder.

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Yeah, because the problem here is that he shot Navy employees. Clearly, if he’d shot up a school or a shopping mall, then the reaction is much different:

Indeed, using the hand-wringing about security clearance as a way to avoid talking about gun safety skipped the usual process of being bounced around on Fox News before being adopted by the mainstream media sources that want to avoid getting irate threats from Responsible Gun Owners®. This morning, the New York Times reported on Aaron Alexis calling the police because he believed people who irritated him in the airport were harassing him by using microwaves to vibrate his walls, and the focus was immediately not on how such an alarming person could buy guns to his heart’s content but that he got security clearance.

When officers came to his hotel room early on Aug. 7, Mr. Alexis told them that a person he had argued with at an airport in Virginia “has sent three people to follow him” and that they were harassing him with a microwave machine, according to a Newport, R.I., police report. Mr. Alexis said he had heard “voices speaking to him through the wall, flooring and ceiling,” the report said.

Mr. Alexis told the police he was a Navy contractor, and then twice that month he sought treatment from the Veterans Affairs Department for psychiatric issues, according to a senior law enforcement official. But it did not raise a red flag that might have prevented him from entering the military base in Washington where, the authorities say, he killed 12 people on Monday.

The episode in Rhode Island adds to a growing list of questions about how Mr. Alexis, who had a history of infractions as a Navy reservist, mental health problems and run-ins with the police over gun violence, gained and kept a security clearance from the Defense Department that gave him access to military bases, including the navy yard, where he was shot to death by the police.

The article briefly mentions gun control, but moves on to the issue of security clearance, clearly framing it as the more serious concern here. Sure, he probably shouldn’t have gotten security clearance. But let’s not fool ourselves into pretending that this much more easy discussion to have is therefore more important. It would have been no better if he’d picked a school or a mall for his target.

Here’s what jumps out at me about this story: Even though we know that Alexis had prior gun incidents where his temper almost surely got him to act out violently—though he luckily didn’t hurt anyone—in this newest incident, he had a run-in with someone he likely couldn’t threaten with a gun. According to the report, he argued with someone in the airport in Virginia. Luckily for that person, you can’t have a gun in an airport. Sure, conservatives like to yammer about how “gun free zones” don’t work, but that’s because we thankfully don’t have checkpoints to search for guns at most of them. Believe me, I don’t want this country to go on some kind of horrific lockdown where you have to be searched to enter most places. The simpler solution is to start enacting stricter gun control.

Here’s a report on how Alexis got his weapons:

Washington Navy Yard gunman Aaron Alexis tried to buy an AR-15 assault rifle at a Virginia gun store last week after test firing one, but the store wouldn’t sell it to him right away, CBS News has learned.

The reason for the refusal isn’t clear.

Alexis then purchased a shotgun he used in his rampage, sources tell CBS News.

The owners of two gun stores in Virginia told CBS News Alexis would have been able to buy an AR-15, he just wouldn’t have gotten it right away.

Anyone can buy the assault-style weapon in Virginia, but the dealer would have to observe the laws of the buyer’s home state.

It appears unlikely Alexis was a Virginia resident. His last reported full-time residency was in Texas.

If the buyer is an out-of-state resident, the dealer would then ship the weapon to the buyer’s home state where a background check would be conducted. At the time of purchase in Virginia, however, the buyer would have to show two proofs of residence with matching addresses and then a proof of citizenship. This is all according to federal law when it comes to sales of the AR-15, which are administered by the ATF.

Good thing the existing gun control was there, because it probably kept the body count lower. But let’s try for zero by making it so people like Alexis cannot get guns at all.

Amanda Marcotte
Amanda Marcotte
Amanda Marcotte is a freelance journalist born and bred in Texas, but now living in the writer reserve of Brooklyn. She focuses on feminism, national politics, and pop culture, with the order shifting depending on her mood and the state of the nation.
 
 
 
 
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