“It seemed like a perfect storm,” said Brad Bushman, a professor of communication and psychology at Ohio State University and a specialist in the causes of human aggression and violence. “We’ll never know what caused him to engage in the shooting rampage, but there are a number of risk factors that have emerged.”
Chief among those factors is Alexis‘ clear struggle with mental illness.
On Aug. 7, he told police in Newport, R.I., that people were talking to him through the walls and ceilings of his hotel, and were sending vibrations into his body to keep him from sleeping.
Professionals say the fact that Alexis acted out his rage at a Navy facility rather than at “soft” locations such as a movie theater or an elementary school offers clues into his frame of mind and motivations.
“He did go to a very dangerous facility, a place that would be quite dangerous for him. He’s going to a place where he most likely will be jeopardizing his own life,” said Richard Shadick, director of the counseling center and an associate professor of psychology at Pace University in New York City. “This was not a movie theater where you can get in and get out. This is a highly guarded facility. There most likely was some self-destructive intent here.”
FBI officials and others, citing the ongoing investigation, declined to comment on those apparent mental issues.
As for his recent movements, authorities confirmed that he arrived in Washington on Aug. 25 and stayed in hotels in the past few weeks.
Guns and mental health
In the immediate aftermath of the shooting, top lawmakers such as Sen. Dianne Feinstein, California Democrat, again raised the issue of gun violence in America and the need for tighter restrictions on firearms purchases.
Alexis easily passed federal and state background checks when purchasing the firearms, despite having twice been arrested on gun-related charges, once in Fort Worth, Texas, and once in Seattle in 2004. His military clearance also likely aided his ability to secure weapons.
Despite Mrs. Feinstein’s desire to address the larger issue of access to guns, shared by President Obama and many others, any significant gun control measures have little or no shot of clearing Congress. A bill to expand background checks, brought forward as a result of the December shooting rampage in Newtown, Conn., failed in the Senate in April.
Making it even more difficult, two Democratic state senators in Colorado were ousted from office in recall elections last week backed by the National Rifle Association.
But the Navy Yard shooting perhaps presents an opportunity for the NRA and its critics to find common ground; both sides agree that mental health must be addressed and that those suffering from such problems must not be allowed to purchase or otherwise acquire guns.
Asked about gun control efforts, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, expressed openness to refocusing his attention on a package that would improve mental health treatment, including early intervention in schools.