The murderous rampage on Monday at the Washington, D.C., Navy Yard, supposedly a secure facility, must give us all pause. If a military facility, especially one that houses the headquarters of a branch of the U.S. Armed Forces, is not safe from gun violence, how can we feel safe anywhere?
This is not a rhetorical question. According to one statistic, so far in 2013 there were nearly 7,600 gun-related deaths in the United States, or just under 30 deaths per day since January 1. (This number does not include the estimated 60 percent of gun deaths each that are ruled suicides; that would put the actual number at around 19,000 deaths so far this year.)
Statistics are cold and impersonal barometers. Each of those 7,600 deaths has a name. Each is a parent or a child or a spouse or a sibling. In a shooting last April in Pennsylvania, a tragedy that reached into our area, the victim was a bride-to-be a week away from her wedding, who had just had the final fitting for her bridal gown. Statistics do not tell the story of the horror a bullet can cause.
The prevalence of guns in this country should be everyone’s concern, regardless of politics or religion. True, people kill people, but guns make it possible to kill 12 people within minutes, if not seconds, in a Navy yard, or 20 children and six adults in a school. With due respect to recent Supreme Court decisions, the Second Amendment is not a blank check for gun ownership. “A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed” is a qualified right, not an absolute one. We have “a well-regulated militia” – the Armed Forces of the United States – and it is well armed and capable of maintaining the security of the state, augmented by federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies.
Another cause for concern must be security generally. Aaron Alexis, the gunman, should never have been given clearance to enter a secured facility. The one-time reservist was dismissed from the Navy in 2011 because of misconduct charges; in 2004, he shot out someone’s tires in response to a perceived slight.
Fingers are being pointed one-and-a-half miles down the road at Congress, because sequestration reportedly limited the funds available to the Navy for vetting outside vendors and their employees. That alone, however, does not explain how Alexis was able to walk onto the base with a shotgun, nor does it explain how he was able to obtain such weapons in the first place, given his history.
If a man can walk into one of the most secure facilities in the country, with its cordon of armed guards and its array of sophisticated metal detectors, then what building can ever be considered safe?
For the Jewish community, this should be especially troubling. Threats against synagogues, schools and other Jewish institutions are ever-present. We cannot – we must not – turn our facilities into impregnable fortresses, but we do need to double our efforts at providing as much security as possible.
Guards posted at doors and metal detectors are not enough. What vetting procedures are in place for in-house employees? For outside contractors? Does anyone inspect the tool boxes and lunch bags a contractor’s employees bring into a building?
No place can be 100 percent secure, apparently not even a naval base, or army base (13 people died and 30 were injured in a November 2009 shooting at Fort Hood). Until the guns come off the streets, however, we especially have to do the best we can to keep our places as secure as possible.