EDITORIAL: Madness at the Navy Yard

This was tragedy, but not at the point of a gun

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What can anyone say in the wake of an awful tragedy such as the massacre at the Washington Navy Yard? It was a heartbreaking crime beyond the ability of the human tongue to tell. The politicians and other public officials rush out with platitudes — well meaning, no doubt, and occasionally sincere — though Washington politicians rarely strike anyone as the prayerful sort. They’re fond of dispensing what their speechwriters call “T&P,” the assurance to surviving families and loved ones that they’re in the pol’s “thoughts and prayers.”

If this seems over-the-top disdain, consider the rush to reopen the gun-control debate, which the left lost, decisively, only six months ago when the Senate defeated a bill expanding background checks meant to discourage everyone trying to buy a gun. Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California, whose long career in the U.S. Senate has been mostly about her obsession with taking guns away from the law-abiding, rushed out before all the victims were bandaged and sedated to demonstrate that enough is never enough of her bromides and banalities.

Congress must stop shirking its responsibility and resume a thoughtful debate on gun violence in this country,” she said as everyone else waited for the odor of cordite and the wail of rescue sirens at the Navy Yard to dissipate. “We must do more to stop this endless loss of life.” Who would argue that we must do less? But Mrs. Feinstein, whose Democratic bona fides define “liberal,” and her friends think “doing more” is doing it only their way. This time “her way” might as well include disarming the military, or at least the Navy.

President Obama — whose constituency ranges far beyond Mrs. Feinstein’s San Francisco, where violence is rare beyond a falling souffle or the pain of a smack on the head by a chef with a quiche pan — seemed to agree, but he was careful to couch his agreement in softer words. “We’re going to be investigating thoroughly what happened,” he said, “as we do so many of these shootings, sadly, that have happened, and do everything we can to prevent them.”

The Navy Yard shooter does not fit the usual description so easily leaped to after a shootout; he was neither a Muslim on fire with misbegotten religious passion nor a psychopathic nut with an infatuation with guns. He was a Buddhist with a hot head. He seemed out to settle a score, deliberately and methodically, with only the Navy. He was a Navy reservist with an honorable discharge who had been cited eight times for misconduct, had once shot out his neighbor’s tires, had passed two background checks and held a “secret” security clearance that enabled easy and unquestioned access to the Navy Yard. He told authorities weeks ago that he heard voices in his head and that he couldn’t sleep because microwave vibrations were sent by unknown parties through the walls and ceiling of his room, even in a hotel.

What we know so far is sketchy and incomplete, but there is nevertheless much the commander in chief can do to make a repeat of the Monday madness less likely. He can make sure the Defense Department, and the Navy, review its security and personnel procedures, change them as obviously necessary, and monitor the results personally. No speeches will be needed, but he can deliver his instructions with firmness that needs no teleprompter.

There’s a reluctance in the culture to call insanity, or craziness, by its rightful name, or to suggest that the mentally unbalanced require careful monitoring and, if necessary, even restraint. It’s easier to say that Congress ought to enact tougher gun laws. The toughest of such laws would not have restrained the nut at the Navy Yard.

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