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Navy Yard Gunman Tried to Buy an AR-15, Passed a Federal Background Check

While we add "Navy Yard" to the grim roster of massacres that includes Sandy Hook, Aurora, Virginia Tech, Columbine and Tucson, how many more place names will we add and how many more lists of the dead will be read on television before the NRA is exorcised from Congress and serious action is taken to solve this crisis?
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Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel lays a wreath at the Navy Yard (AP).

Yesterday morning I had to post an update on my Navy Yard article, some of which I've incorporated into today's article for the sake of emphasis. Recapping what I wrote yesterday, I had waited until the very end of the day on Monday, around midnight eastern time, before posting an article containing the details regarding the massacre in Washington, D.C. Once it appeared as if nearly every news outlet had published the same information -- specifically that one of Alexis' firearms was the eerily familiar AR-15 semi-automatic assault rifle -- I made the call to go with the AR-15 detail. Around twelve hours later, CNN reported that the gunman might not have used an AR-15. Hence the update and clarification.

In the update, I wrote that the existence or nonexistence of an AR-15, the infamous firearm used at Aurora and Sandy Hook, was ultimately irrelevant to the broader question of exactly how Alexis was able to purchase a firearm at all, much less attain card access to a secured military facility, considering his questionable history.

However, it turns out Alexis had actually attempted to buy an AR-15 as his first weapon of choice from the Sharpshooters Small Arms Range in Lorton, Virginia last Saturday. But Virginia state law forbids the purchase of AR-15s by out-of-state residents. Any upside the Virginia law might have provided was entirely decimated when, according to a lawyer for the gun shop who was quoted by The New York Times, Alexis had passed a federal background check, allowing him to buy a Remington 870 Express 12-gauge shotgun and 24 shells, which he used at the Navy Yard on Monday.

This news is absolutely breathtaking given Alexis' history of prior gun violence incidents and, as was reported yesterday, the fact that Alexis suffered from paranoid delusions and, in one case, called the Newport, Rhode Island police to his hotel room because he apparently heard voices inside the walls talking to him. The voices, according to a police report, were "sending vibrations through his body." The report also detailed how Alexis "stated that the individuals are using 'some sort of microwave machine' to send vibrations through the ceiling, penetrating his body so he cannot fall asleep."

Couple this with post-traumatic stress from his time working at Ground Zero in the aftermath of 9/11 and what the Fort Worth Star-Telegram referred to as black outs, and not only is it illustrative of how broken the background check system is at every level, but also how badly the U.S. Navy fumbled Alexis' application for security clearance, allowing him access into the Naval Sea Systems Command office at the Navy Yard.

The absence of an AR-15 doesn't mitigate the fact that this was yet another gun massacre that could have been prevented. Earlier in the year, the Manchin-Toomey (or Toomey-Schumer-Manchin) amendment strengthened the background checks system not only by mandating background checks for private guns sales, but it also added mental health records into the system.

If you recall, the primary conspiracy theory about Manchin-Toomey was that it would've created a national gun registry. The gun lobbyist group Gun Owners of America believed the amendment meant that "you will be part of a national gun registry." The Daily Caller published an article claiming the amendment was "really about gun registration -- ultimate and imminent registration of every gun and gun owner in America."

Funny thing about that. The amendment specifically reinforced and emphasized a prior law banning a national gun registry in the harshest terms possible.

Regardless, a Gallup poll determined that 83 percent of Americans supported the legislation. But the amendment and the broader gun control package died in Congress in one of the most spectacular instances of the legislative branch acting in total defiance of nearly unanimous public opinion.

Even, today, following the Navy Yard massacre in which a specific glitch in the background check system has been exposed, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said that there aren't enough votes to revisit the gun control issue, proving that even the senseless mass murder of 12 innocent people within spitting distance of Capitol Hill can't stir Congress out of its NRA-induced torpor.

Set aside for a moment any specific gun bans or buyback programs. There were 45 members of the U.S. Senate, including five Democrats (not counting Harry Reid's procedural vote), who completely rejected the unprecedented and overwhelming public support for this issue by failing to strengthen the background check system. 45 senators decided that the background check system -- a system that was already law, by the way -- didn't require any additional reforms or repairs, allowing would-be criminals to slip through well-known gaping loopholes, simply because the NRA, with an agitprop campaign that rivaled "death panels," scared enough voters into believing the "gun registry" conspiracy theory.

So Aaron Alexis, in spite of a considerable dossier of red flags, was able to walk into a gun store and buy the Remington 870 Express. He used this weapon to rain lead upon a crowd inside a Navy yard office building, killing a dozen people while they ate breakfast.

By way of illustrating the firepower of this weapon, here's a YouTube video showing how a single shot from the Remington 870, fired at a distance of 12 feet, smashes through three walls -- penetrating six sheets of drywall.

There's another discussion to be had about whether civilians need weapons possessing that kind of firepower, but that's for another day. However, the polling during the gun control debate earlier in the year proves that Americans overwhelmingly agree that men like Alexis, Adam Lanza, James Holmes or Jared Lee Loughner shouldn't be allowed to buy firearms of any variety. And if it hadn't been for a Virginia law preventing out-of-state residents from purchasing assault rifles, Alexis would've obviously been allowed to acquire the AR-15 instead.

Returning to a refrain from April, what will it take for Americans to strong-arm their elected representatives to once and for all reject the sinister, fringe influence of Wayne LaPierre and the NRA and actually allow sensible new legislation to fix the broken system? While we carve "Navy Yard" onto the grim slate of massacres that includes Sandy Hook, Aurora, Virginia Tech, Columbine and Tucson, how many more place names will we add and how many more lists of the dead will be read on television before the NRA is exorcised from Congress and serious action is taken to solve this crisis? I wish I knew the answer.

Bob Cesca is the managing editor for The Daily Banter, the editor of, the host of the Bubble Genius Bob & Chez Show podcast and a Huffington Post contributor.