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Questions unanswered in base killings

Editorial

Even as we mourn another case of needless, senseless losses of life, questions hang heavily in the air after Monday’s shooting rampage on the Washington Navy Yard that resulted in a dozen deaths.

How did this recently assigned contractor manage to get into the Navy Yard with an assault-style rifle, a double-barreled shotgun and a handgun?

Why did Aaron Alexis, whose life was ended by gunfire from police, go on this murderous rampage, the worst on a U.S. military base since the Fort Hood killings?

The answer to that latter question is one we may never know. The answers likely died with Alexis when police brought his killing spree to an end. Some who knew him may come forward with an idea, and investigators may be able to piece together some semblance of a motive, but no one will know for sure.

Equally troubling is the former question. How did this murderer get these weapons on a military base, especially one so close to the White House and Capitol Hill?

What has been learned about the killer, according to various news reports, is that he had contacted two Veterans Administration hospitals recently, where he was believed to be seeking help for psychological problems. He also had a history of violent behavior, including an arrest in Seattle nine years ago for shooting out a construction worker’s tires because he felt disrespected. A second incident three years ago involving a weapon discharge was dropped when officials determined the gun fire accidentally while he cleaned it, but he was discharged from the Navy Reserves two years ago because of a series of misconduct incidents. A report Tuesday said the latest background check on Alexis, which was conducted in June, revealed only a minor traffic violation.

The United States has been lagging in providing adequate mental health for its military veterans who have served in the more than a decade of fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan. The federal government’s record in this area hasn’t been adequate going many wars back, and it’s an area that needs immediate attention. These men and women placed their lives on the line for their nation, and the nation owes them the support that is needed for them to re-enter civilian life.

But in the area of keeping military personnel and civilian employees on U.S. bases safe, a report Tuesday from the inspector general of the Department of Defense was troubling. A year-long audit of the Navy’s commercial access control system determined that attempts to reduce costs had resulted in serious shortcomings in the system. The report stated that 52 convicted felons had received routine, unauthorized access to Navy facilities.

No system is 100 percent effective, but improvements can be made to give those working for our common defense an added measure of security. There are places in government where saving money is important. That place is not at the entry gate of U.S. bases.

— The Albany Herald Editorial Board