Within hours of the September 16 massacre at the Washington Navy Yard, various commentators and politicians were calling for more restrictive gun laws—on the theory that the government should respond to murders committed by a psychotic man by further restricting the liberties of rights-respecting Americans. How absurd.

There is a valid political lesson to be drawn from this massacre, however: The government has a responsibility to protect people’s rights by (among other things) appropriately responding to threats and acts of violence. Had the government done so with respect to this murderer—Aaron Alexis—the massacre at the Navy Yard never would have occurred. Consider why this is so.

  • In 2004, Alexis intentionally shot out the tires of a car belonging to construction workers, the Washington Post reports. At the time, he lived in Seattle, and local police arrested him for the act. However, the Post notes, he was not prosecuted for the crime because government officials lost the relevant paperwork. (TPM verifies this account and adds additional details.) Had Alexis been convicted of this crime, he almost certainly would not have been issued security clearance at the Navy Yard.
  • In 2010, when Alexis lived in an apartment in Fort Worth, Texas, he began harassing his upstairs neighbor, calling the police over her alleged noise and confronting her in a parking lot. While the neighbor was home, Alexis fired a shot that went through her floor and ceiling. The victim told police that “she is terrified of Aaron and feels that this was done intentionally.” Although this case involved at the very least gross negligence (more likely, attempted murder), “the county district attorney’s office said . . . that there was not enough evidence to pursue the case,” the Washington Post reports.
  • Just weeks ago, Alexis’s roommate filed “a criminal mischief complaint” and told police that Alexis had vandalized his car by pouring something into the fuel tank, Fox News reports. This was prior to Alexis receiving security clearance for his contract position at the Navy Yard.
  • Last month a civilian police officer warned naval station police that Alexis was psychotic, Fox News reports. Alexis had told police that he was hearing voices and that “people were following him and sending vibrations into his body.”
  • The government prohibits most members of the military from carrying defensive guns on military bases. One soldier at the scene of the murders told CNS.com that, had more soldiers there been armed, they could have stopped the murderer much sooner. (Police officers armed with AR-15 rifles eventually stopped him.)

To review: The government knew that Alexis was a psychotic and violent criminal, yet the government failed to prosecute him for his crimes, failed to act on clear warnings about his psychosis, granted him security clearance at a U.S. military installation, and disarmed U.S. soldiers in the crime area, thus giving the murderer ample time to fire away.

The government’s proper purpose is to protect people’s rights, and it should do so robustly and effectively. In this case, the government failed to protect people’s rights on multiple counts.

This massacre and others like it demonstrate that we need our government to do its job. Such massacres also demonstrate something we emphatically do not need. We do not need more laws that divert government resources from dealing with violent psychotics, such as Alexis, to tracking and harassing rights-respecting Americans.

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Image: Wikimedia Commons

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