Washington Navy Yard shooting: Should authorities have paid closer attention to Aaron Alexis following two previous ‘gun rage’ investigations?

Mass shooting will inevitably spark fresh debate over increased gun legislation

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The mass shooting at the Washington Navy Yard that left 13 people dead yesterday will inevitably spark fresh debate over increased gun legislation in the US.

There are already huge questions over why a man with a history of anger-management issues was ever given security clearance to work on a military site having previously been dismissed from the Navy reserves for “a pattern of misconduct”.

But perhaps even more worrying it is the fact that Aaron Alexis had been investigated for two “gun rage”-type incidents in the past, only to have been released without indictment or conviction in both instances on grounds that appeared not to recognise the dangers of brandishing a gun in anger.

In 2004, Alexis was accused of shooting out the rear tires of a vehicle carrying two construction workers who he claimed had looked at him in a way that “mocked” and “disrespected” him.

Despite admitting to having had an “anger-fuelled blackout” during the incident, the case against Alexis was dropped when he claimed to be suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder brought on after acting as a rescue worker during the September 11 attacks.

While living in Texas in 2010, shortly after a “terrifying” confrontation between Alexis and a female neighbour over noise allegedly coming from her upstairs flat, the Navy reserve fired a gun through his ceiling with the bullet narrowly missing the woman.

Alexis claimed that the gun had gone off accidentally while cleaning it, and excused the fact he hadn’t gone to check on or apologise to his neighbour by stating he’d wrongly assumed the bullet wouldn’t have penetrated her floor.

Texan authorities investigating the incident quickly dismissed it, arguing that there was not enough evidence to corroborate the women’s belief the gunshot was deliberate, and also, somewhat bizarrely, that Alexis had not behaved recklessly in allowing the gun to go off while cleaning it, despite the fact he’d presumably left it loaded and cocked, and the stray bullet subsequently entered his neighbour’s flat.

Yesterday, when Alexis began taking lives at Washington’s Navy Yard, he was engaged in the 79th mass shooting (as defined by the Congressional Research Service) since 1983.

After almost every incident, the conservative pro-gun lobby argues that firearm ownership remains essential to personal freedom in the United States, and the argument for greater gun legislation is a political one and not in the interest of law-abiding citizens who carry weapons for their own protection.

Following the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Newtown, Connecticut last December, in which 20 first-grade pupils and six members of staff were killed by gun-wielding Adam Lanza, Barack Obama confirmed gun control would be a “central issue” at the start of his second term as US President.

A bill to increase restrictions on gun ownership failed earlier this year however, amid National Rifle Association-led arguments Obama was trying to politically “demonise firearms”, and accusations the families of Sandy Hook victims were engaged in a dangerously “emotional” stunt by arguing in favour of gun control.