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Beam: Fix broken security systems

Last Modified: Thursday, September 19, 2013 8:10 AM

By Jim Beam / American Press

Some 70,000 New Orleans Saints fans can only get into the Superdome with a clear plastic, vinyl or PVC bag. They aren’t allowed to bring large purses, coolers, briefcases, backpacks, fanny packs, cinch bags, seat cushions and computer or camera bags. However, Aaron Alexis got into the Washington Navy Yard with a questionable ID pass and a shotgun that he used to kill 12 innocent workers inside.

If that doesn’t say something is terribly wrong with our gun laws already on the books and our government security systems in this country, what is it going to take? If the NFL can deal with security issues effectively, why can’t the federal government?

Gun control opponents are going to have a field day with this incident. It proves what they have been saying all along. They have continually noted that the country doesn’t enforce existing gun laws and that law enforcement hasn’t figured out how to keep guns out of the hands of criminals and citizens with mental problems.

National Journal, a Washington, D.C., political magazine, had a Wednesday column titled, “Why Gun Control Can’t Eliminate Gun Violence.” It talked to Richard Feldman, president of the Independent Firearm Owners Association, about how to stop mass shootings.

“A deranged crazy person, largely in suicidal range, decides to take out as many people as possible — that’s the most difficult of all,” Feldman said.

Ron Machen, the U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia, listed some of the questions about this incident that need to be answered.

“What caused this individual to kill so many innocent men and women,” Machen asked. “How did he carry out and plan this attack? How did he get access to the weapons? What could have been done to prevent this tragedy? And most importantly, whether anyone else aided or assisted him either wittingly or unwittingly in this tragedy.”

Machen said his office wasn’t going to stop until it gets answers to those questions. We wish him luck, but how many times have we heard that before?

Alexis was clearly a troubled individual. He had used a gun recklessly on previous occasions, had a history of violence and was undergoing treatment for mental problems. Still, he was able to get a security clearance, buy a gun, practice at a range in Virginia and get inside the Navy yard.

The Associated Press reported that Alexis told police at Newport, R.I., he could hear voices through his hotel wall harassing him, wanting to harm him with microwave vibrations and keeping him awake. The police even reported the incident to the Newport Naval Station. Alexis then went to Washington to continue his work as an information technology employee for a defense-related computer company.

How did this guy get that security clearance in the first place? And how was he able to keep it so long? The AP said, like other recently accused mass shooters, Alexis was never declared mentally ill by a judge or committed to a hospital.

Gen. Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs, said those who have served in the military should not be stigmatized by having to answer questions about their mental health status on security clearance forms. He expressed doubts that questions about mental health on an application form would have revealed the problems Alexis was experiencing.

Maybe not, but the AP said this is at least the seventh mass shooting during Obama’s presidency. Gun control advocates want more laws, but it’s obvious the country hasn’t made any progress on how to keep guns out of the hands of criminals and people like Alexis. National Journal said background checks have to actually detect problems or they won’t work.

It’s rather late in the game, but Navy Secretary Ray Mabus ordered two security reviews to see how well the Navy protects its bases and screens its workers. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel wants a review of security and access at all of his department’s installations around the world. One audit showed there are poor review systems for lower level contractors.

Speaking of Hagel, news reports said he laid a wreath at the U.S. Navy Memorial on Washington’s Pennsylvania Avenue to mourn the loss of the Navy Yard victims. Hagel didn’t lay that wreath. Someone else carried it for him, and he simply touched it with one hand. Have you ever wondered why Hagel, the president and others don’t just pick up the wreath on these solemn occasions, carry it and lay it themselves? Wouldn’t that make these events more sincere and meaningful?

We can’t leave this latest mass shooting without bringing up the Benghazi incident. A State Department security failure definitely occurred Sept. 11, 2012, when four Americans, including the U.S. ambassador, were killed at the U.S. mission in Libya. And persons responsible for the lack of adequate security there are — so far — off the hook.

Athletic facilities aren’t the only places where security is tight. Airports, courthouses and many other federal and state facilities have metal detectors and guards who effectively screen the public. You would think all military installations would top the list of the most secure places in the world, but we know because of this and previous incidents that isn’t the case.

Whether any effective deterrent will come from all of this remains to be seen, but it is an issue that is long overdue for speedy corrective action at every level of government. Let’s fix legislation we have that isn’t working before we start adding more laws that are even tougher to enforce.

    • • •

Jim Beam, the retired editor of the American Press, has covered people and politics for more than five decades. Contact him at 494-4025 or jbeam@americanpress.com

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