WHAT OTHERS SAY: Navy Yard shooting spurs debate to expand background checks

Friday, September 20, 2013 | 6:00 a.m. CDT

As 12 families in the Washington, D.C., area prepare to bury the victims of America’s latest mass shooting, leaders are seeking to learn what went wrong.

The man identified as the shooter, 34-year-old Aaron Alexis, had a history of strange and ominous behavior, including at least two gun-related infractions. He reportedly had been treated for a mental illness. Yet he had a concealed weapons permit and a security clearance to enter the Navy Yard in Washington as a computer technician. Alexis, who was killed in a shootout with police, carried at least one weapon onto the base, no questions asked.

By Tuesday, a day after the shooting, officials were calling for a review of security at military facilities. Others, including U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill from Missouri, were questioning the process by which contractors are evaluated for security clearances.

Those are essential questions. The horrific events at the Navy Yard mark the second time in four years that a military base has been the location of a mass shooting. The military must do all it can to protect its personnel from insiders and outsiders who are intent on doing harm.

Yet, for most Americans, the carnage in Washington is more cause for frustration.

In the nine months since the slaughter of children and staffers at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut, our politicians have rejected sensible measures to expand background checks. They have allowed the National Rifle Association and an intense minority of gun advocates to co-opt the debate.

Legislatures in states like Missouri and Kansas have yielded to outright hysteria, passing bills intended to rebuff future measures that might protect Americans from gun violence.

The Navy Yard shootings have prompted a call for reconsideration of a bipartisan measure to expand background checks. Earlier this year, the U.S. Senate refused to even debate such modest legislation.

The massacre of 20 schoolchildren and six school staffers should have been a tipping point. Now Congress is confronted with a workplace slaughter in its back yard. Expanded background checks would not infringe on anyone’s freedom, and they would save lives. Americans can only hope against hope that the terrible events in Washington this week will bring some sanity to the gun debate.

Copyright The Kansas City Star. Reprinted with permission.

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