At approximately 8 a.m. eastern time on Monday, a man named Aaron Alexis, a former reservist with the U.S. Navy, entered the Naval Sea Systems Command office building at the Navy Yard in Washington, D.C. and opened fire, killing 12 people and wounding 10 others. The gunman used a shotgun, a handgun and an AR-15 semi-automatic assault rifle (see UPDATE below) to rain bullets into a crowd of people before eventually being shot and killed by police.
At 2:15 p.m., six hours after the massacre, Rep. Steve Stockman (R-TX) tweeted the following sentiment to his followers: "Remember to keep praying for those affected by both the Navy Yard shootings and the Colorado floods."
A noble gesture -- that is if you ignore the irony that the congressman is a vocal climate crisis denier, as well as one of the NRA's most valuable allies inside the House of Representatives with a creepy obsession with AR-15 assault rifles, say nothing of being one of the only internet trolls serving as a member of Congress.
His request for prayers appears more cosmetic and hollow knowing that even after an AR-15 had been used as the weapon of choice during the Aurora movie theater massacre last Summer, and once again during the heart-wrenching massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School, Rep. Stockman held not one but two wacky contest giveaways this year in which a Bushmaster AR-15 was the grand prize, clearly because it became one of the most infamous firearms in modern history after Sandy Hook. (Why else, out of thousands of other firearms, would he choose that one?)
Ghoulish and macabre barely scratches the surface in describing Stockman's gun giveaways, especially considering the infamy of the specific weapon.
By the way, several weeks after Sandy Hook, Stockman introduced a bill to allow firearms in school zones, thus following in the footsteps of Ron Paul who introduced a similar bill in 2007. The Orwellian legislation was titled "The Safe Schools Act of 2013 (HR 35)" and would've rolled back the gun-free school zone law. The logic of arming school officials to prevent another massacre entirely falls apart, of course, knowing that Aaron Alexis, the Navy Yard gunman, was able to murder 12 people inside a facility run by a branch of the armed services.
But let's set aside the fact that there have been three mass shootings in little over a year in which an AR-15 was a centerpiece. Alexis was not only able to purchase firearms but had also somehow attained a concealed carry permit even though he had been involved in two prior gun-related incidents. In 2004, the Fort Worth Star-Telegramreported, "Alexis was arrested by Seattle police in 2004 after shooting out two tires of a car parked next door to his home. He told authorities that construction workers had 'disrespected him.'" Alexis was so infuriated that he "blacked out" and might have suffered from post-traumatic stress after assisting rescue workers in lower Manhattan during the immediate aftermath of 9/11. Later, in 2010, Alexis discharged a firearm through the floor of another apartment in his building.
It's possible Alexis attained his firearms at gun shows or on the internet where a gaping loophole in gun laws allow enthusiasts in many states to purchase firearms without background checks. However, there's nothing that can explain the issuance of the concealed carry permit as well as "common access card" (CAC) clearance as a Navy contractor given his prior arrest, apparent mental health issues and, according to Reuters, his discharge from the Navy "after a series of misconduct issues."
If this isn't a super-colossal illustration of how utterly worthless our background check laws are in this country, I don't know what is.
Now, I get it: we're not supposed to politicize a tragedy too soon or to place blame at the feet of political opponents, but how can we avoid it when political impotence, combined with a raging, tone deal fealty to the gun lobby has shaped the pathetic status of our gun laws? It's impossible. A viral weakening of political spines is inextricably linked to the Navy Yard; to Sandy Hook; to Aurora; to Tucson and beyond. How many more lone nuts are out there right now buying (or winning) AR-15s because Sen. Diane Feinstein's new assault weapons ban died with a whimper back in March? There's no way of knowing, but the number would be significantly closer to zero if the ban had passed, preventing crackpots and psychopaths from attaining weapons designed specifically for combat.
Speaking of crackpots and psychopaths, we return to Mr. Stockman. I wonder how long he'll wait until he holds a third AR-15 giveaway. It's a long way to November, 2014, and there's plenty of time for more trolling. But the sooner he and his collaborators are summarily removed from power, preferably next year, the better off we'll be, not to mention just a little bit safer. Praying for victims after the fact does nothing to ameliorate the brutal reality that Stockman has not only exploited a weapon like the AR-15 as an unfunny punchline, but meanwhile continues to encourage greater availability of this and other machines of war to broken, disturbed men who are thousands of miles from the next nearest battlefield and, in lieu of one, have too often transformed our schools, theaters and offices into bloody combat zones.
It has to end, but once again we're faced with the harrowing question: who will be brave enough to stand up to the zealots in Congress and the NRA?
UPDATE: I posted this article at around midnight eastern time Monday night when every news source had reported that Alexis used an AR-15 as one of three weapons in the massacre. Nevertheless, this morning at around 5 a.m. my time, reports indicated that Alexis might not have used an AR-15.
My response? So what. The absence of an AR-15 not only doesn't mitigate the fact that this was yet another gun massacre in a nation with some of the industrialized world's most permissible gun laws, but it also doesn't mitigate the ongoing ghoulishness of congressmen like Mr. Stockman or the NRA especially in the wake of a series of gut-churning AR-15 massacres elsewhere. Via CNN:
-- Sandy Hook: Adam Lanza killed 26 people at the Sandy Hook elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut, with an AR-15 in December 2012.
-- Aurora: Police say James Holmes killed 12 people and wounded 58 using an AR-15 rifle, a 12-gauge shotgun and at least one of two .40-caliber handguns police recovered at the scene.
-- Portland: Jacob Tyler Roberts stole an AR-15 and killed two people in a mall food court in December 2012.
-- Santa Monica: John Zawahri allegedly pieced together an AR-15-type gun and went on a rampage that started at his father's home and ended at Santa Monica College in June. Five people were killed.
The absence of an AR-15 in the hands of Aaron Alexis doesn't assuage the fact that the AR-15 is a firearm that is entirely unnecessary in the hands of civilians, along with its other assault rifle counterparts. Its only purpose is to kill or wound human beings. The fact that Alexis might not have used an AR-15 doesn't speak to the fact that our gun laws permitted a man with a history of gun violence and mental health issues to purchase firearms -- to attain a CAC for a military facility and to qualify for a concealed carry permit. (See the paragraph above that begins with "But let's set aside the fact that there have been three mass shootings in little over a year in which an AR-15 was a centerpiece...")
Does this update change a detail of the story? Of course. Does it change the fact that American politicians, while confronted by a series of gun massacres, continue to exist in a state of torpor, induced by the crackpots who run the modern NRA, along with their flying monkeys on the internet? Not at all. It's both disturbing and predictable that all across the internet this morning, the AR-15 detail is being exploited by AR fanboys to undermine the need for stricter gun control laws, including Mr. Stockman who tweeted three different trollish remarks about it today. Shame on anyone who takes delight in the fact that an AR wasn't used. Yes, Mr. Stockman, your precious contest prize is innocent... this time. Unfortunately, 12 people are dead because Stockman and others are too weak-willed to close loopholes in the law and to make sure men like Adam Lanza, James Holmes, Jared Lee Loughner and Aaron Alexis can't get their hands on firearms of any variety.