Urgent Need for Security Clearance, Not Gun, Control

Urgent Need for Security Clearance, Not Gun, Control

Before all the wounded from yesterday’s shooting at the Navy Yard had even arrived at hospitals, the usual suspects were rushing to the press with renewed calls for gun control. Elites like Sen. Diane Feinstein, David Brooks and elite-wannabe David Frum all prescribed a healthy dose of gun control even before the facts about the shooting were known. 

They ought to have held their rhetorical fire. As facts emerge about the alleged shooter, Aaron Alexis, it is clear that the problem isn’t gun laws, but the enforcement of gun laws. More troubling, though, are questions about how the government manages its security clearance background checks and how Alexis, and others were allowed to slip through the cracks. 

The first relevant fact is that Aaron Alexis had a “secret” security clearance from the US government. He was awarded this status even after he was arrested for shooting out the car tires of someone he felt had “insulted” him. He maintained his security clearance after he was arrested in Texas for shooting a bullet through his ceiling into a neighbor’s apartment in 2010. He was honorably discharged from the Navy despite a “pattern of misconduct” in his service record

Earlier this year, Alexis had gone to the Veterans Administration for help with possible schizophrenia and claimed he “heard voices” in his head. Yet, two months ago, the Navy re-ran a background check on Alexis and renewed his “secret” clearance.

A draft report by the Pentagon’s Inspector General on Tuesday found that 52 convicted felons had improperly been approved for access to military bases. Edward Snowden was given a high-security clearance and promptly started rummaging through the government’s classified files. Pvt. Bradley Manning was also awarded a high-security clearance and started burning CDs of government secrets.

Alexis’ case is far more worrisome. Never mind the gun arrests, his military service record listed a “pattern of misconduct,” yet he still won security clearance from the government. He kept this even after he went to the government with concerns that he might be schizophrenic and told the government that he “heard voices” in his head. 

Most tragedies don’t really warrant a full-review of government laws or policy. In a nation of 300 million people, there is going to be a little chaos from time to time that has nothing to do with the laws on the books. The Navy Yard shooting might be an exception, however. 

Not for a review of gun laws, however. The Navy Yard shooting was not enabled because we forgot to enact some law, but rather that the laws we do have weren’t enforced. If anything screams out for a review, it is our government’s handling of security clearances. If the government insists on giving security clearances to schizophrenics with a history of rage and gun violence, why should the rest of us give up another measure of our freedom?