Navy Yard shooter 'was in early stages of treatment'
on 18/09/2013 08:21:01
But Aaron Alexis, a 34-year-old military contractor and former Navy reservist, apparently managed to exploit loopholes in the nation's patchwork of complicated gun laws designed to keep weapons out of the hands of dangerous people.
He was able to buy a shotgun in Virginia with out-of-state identification, even though that would have prevented him from buying a handgun.
Meanwhile, a picture emerged yesterday of Alexis as an agitated and erratic man whose behaviour and mental state repeatedly came to authorities' attention but apparently never affected his security clearance to do work for the Department of Defence.
Alexis, an information technology employee at a defence-related computer company, used a valid pass on Monday to get into the Navy Yard. Officials said besides being armed with the shotgun, he also took a handgun from a law officer. A day after the assault, the motive was still a mystery.
It is illegal for gun dealers to sell handguns to such out-of-state buyers, but the Firearms Owners' Protection Act, passed by Congress in 1986, opened up interstate sales for shotguns and rifles.
Virginia gun laws require only that an out-of-state buyer show valid identification, pass a background check and otherwise abide by state laws in order to buy a shotgun in the state. Alexis was never prosecuted for two charges involving guns.
Alexis bought the shotgun at Sharpshooters Small Arms Range in Lorton, Virginia, on Saturday, according to a statement from the lawyer for the gun range.
Michael Slocum said that Alexis rented a rifle, bought bullets and used the range before buying the shotgun and 24 shells. He said Alexis passed a background check.
Federal gun laws bar the mentally ill from legally buying guns from licenced dealers. But the law requires that someone be involuntarily committed to a mental health facility or declared mentally ill by a judge, and that information must be reported to the FBI in order to appear on background checks.
In the wake of the mass shooting at Virginia Tech in 2007, state authorities changed state laws to make it tougher for the mentally ill to buy guns there.
But Alexis was never declared mentally ill by a judge or committed to a hospital. He had been undergoing mental health treatment from the Department of Veterans Affairs since August but was not stripped of his security clearance.
He suffered serious mental problems, including paranoia and a sleep disorder and had been hearing voices in his head, officials said, but he was not stripped of his security clearance.
He had been suffering from a host of serious mental problems, including paranoia and a sleep disorder, and had been hearing voices in his head, the officials said.
After the December massacre at a Connecticut elementary school, US politicians pushed to overhaul gun laws. Among the proposals was a ban on military-style rifles, including the popular AR-15, and high-capacity ammunition magazines.
No legislation has moved forward in Congress, despite urgent pleas from the president, some politicians and victims' families.
President Barack Obama has made a few narrow administrative changes, but those are not likely to have an impact on the kinds of guns most often found at crime scenes.
A month before Monday's rampage, Alexis complained to police in Rhode Island that people were talking to him through the walls and ceilings of his hotel rooms and sending microwave vibrations into his body to deprive him of sleep.
Alexis told police he got into an argument with someone as he was getting on a flight from Virginia to Rhode Island, where he was working as a naval contractor, and he said the person sent three people to follow and harass him.
Alexis came to the Washington area about two weeks after the Rhode Island incident and had been staying at hotels.
The assault is raising more questions about the adequacy of the background checks done on contract employees who hold security clearances.
Navy Secretary Ray Mabus ordered two security reviews yesterday of how well the Navy protects its bases and how accurately it screens its workers.
Alexis had run-ins with the law in 2004 and 2010 in Texas and Seattle after he was accused of firing a gun in anger.
His bouts of insubordination, disorderly conduct and being absent from work without authorisation prompted the Navy to grant him an early - but honourable - discharge in 2011 after nearly four years as a full-time reservist, authorities said.
Alexis joined the Florida-based IT consulting firm The Experts in September 2012, leaving a few months later to return to college. He came back in June to do part-time work at the Washington Navy Yard as a subcontractor, helping the military update computer systems.
The Experts' chief executive, Thomas Hoshko, said Alexis had "no personal issues," and he confirmed that he had been granted a "secret" clearance by the Defence Security Service five years ago.