18 September 2013, 07:48

Aaron Alexis 'had the right to purchase that weapon' - expert

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Defense officials honoured victims of the Navy Yard shooting rampage as the investigation Tuesday focused on suspected gunman Aaron Alexis' troubled past and how he killed 12 people. The naval base, 2 kilometres from the US Capitol, was open only to "mission essential" personnel, the Navy said, as the FBI continued its investigation in an office building where Alexis was killed after a running gun battle with police. The Voice of Russia talked about this tragedy with Gwendolyn Lindsay Jackson, a retired United States army reserve judge advocate general, in an exclusive interview.

- Thank you so much for joining us, Gwendolyn.

Thank you for having me.

- Gwendolyn, Aaron Alexis was not declared mentally unfit by the US Navy despite him having some very serious mental health problems, as it turns out. Is this a common occurrence in the US military for such things not to be noted?

Actually, no, but in his particular situation we really don’t know when the symptoms occurred and it doesn’t sound like any of the symptoms of having seen a mental health provider had come to the attention of his command and clearly if he’d had other issues and if he’d worsened, a psychologist is a psychologist, that would have come to the attention.

So I seriously doubt that it happened during the brief period he was in the United States Navy. He had other issues relating to his behavior and subordination. We are not sure exactly what that entailed but he was able to secure an honourable discharge which leads me to believe that whatever he was accused of wasn’t that serious.

- I see. Aaron Alexis was not declared mentally unfit by the US Navy. He even had a lot of friends who were very surprised when they were talked to about his behavior. Perhaps, that wasn’t common. But if for whatever reason people who are potentially capable of conducting violent acts are let into American military facilities, do you think that as a whole there are sufficient protection mechanisms that are imposed on these facilities? It seems very strange that a person with such a large weapon could have gotten past security.

Well, I think that this is the main thing people should focus on, more so than on anything else. Alexis hid those weapons, you may understand that he had two long weapons – he had an AR15 and another shotgun, another rifle – that’ll be very difficult to pass security unless somebody just let him through. My guess is that he probably had it in a bag.

Maybe he went there before, during a different time when people were not available, he could have gone there in the evening and because he is a computer technician he could have got them through in a box – who knows? And I think that really is the question of what people should focus on: how did he get those weapons past security? And there should be metal detectors and clearly everything should be fixed for anyone entering the building.

- Are there metal detectors at that facility?

I don’t know, I’ve never been at the facility but listening to the news, CNN, I believe one of the witnesses, one of the young ladies that were in the cafeteria, that ran out, she indicated she was an employee at that building and she said there were no metal detectors. And I would think that that would be something, if in fact that is true, something that the military should change. We have metal detectors at airports, we have them in courts. I am a lawyer and I can tell you that sometimes it’s difficult waiting in long lines to get into the court because of metal detectors and emptying your pockets but you all feel safe when you go through those things. I’m not really sure why that particular building would not have had a metal detector and that’s clearly an issue that is to be looked at.

- Is there a special committee that’s now being set up to examine the reason for this to have happened and to sort of rectify the situation as far as security because we here at Radio Moscow have a metal detector at our entrance and we have armed policemen here. And we don’t even have hand guns available to people as they are in the States, much less these long weapons.

Well, my understanding is again listening to the news that Chuck Hagel is basically going to look into this and it’s been all over the news and it is clearly number one priority. Something needs to be pieced up and we need to look at the procedures to make sure that this kind of thing doesn’t happen again.

- Right. What do you think about the level of security training received by military personnel, is it enough? This is a military base and one would think there is a bunch of check-points to be passed. Was this training sufficient? No one seems to have been thinking about this sort of thing to happen.

I think that this was a surprise and it’s very difficult, you can’t read the mind of a crazy person or a deranged person, you don’t really know who’s the deranged person.

My understanding is that they had security guards, not military but standard security guards. This is a facility which had the majority of non-military people. No one, even the workers didn’t have weapons. There might have been a few MPs on base but clearly this is not an area that would have had guards pointing their weapons at everyone coming through and searching the car. I don’t think this is the training issue, this is more the issue of how to allocate resources. Not only the Secretary of Defence will do something about this but the Secretary of the Navy will too because this is something that we certainly cannot ignore.

- Right. This is not the first mass shooting we’ve heard of in the past couple of years, there’s been a lot of loud instances. A lot of people have gotten killed, civilians and civilian buildings and much more so this last incident which was at a military facility but …What particular measures do you think really need to be taken to prevent these mass shootings?

I think that we really need and a lot of people say that it’s not the weapon, it’s the person but nothing good can come of a civilian purchasing an AR15, you can’t use it to hunt, you don’t need an AR15 to protect yourself from an intruder. Those are automatic and semi-automatic weapons clearly made for mass shootings on the battlefield and that’s not something I think a civilian should be allowed to purchase. I think we should start with the weapons of mass shooting, maybe controlling those, maybe making it illegal to purchase those or getting them off the market – we could start there.

- Was Aaron Alexis a civilian or was he not a civilian? Would he have been able to purchase this weapon even if there was control against civilians buying weapons?

Well, he was a civilian. Remember, he was discharged from the military honourably in 2011. So he clearly was a civilian and because he didn’t have any criminal convictions on his record no one declared him unfit in a court of law, so he had the right to go and purchase that weapon and in my understanding he purchased it legally in Virginia and he carried it to the DC which would be an illegal act, you can’t have weapons in DC, in that area. So he had the right to purchase that weapon. I really think that if he not had the right to purchase that weapon clearly I don’t think that many people would have died.

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