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The Navy Yard Names Lost in the Politics

Wednesday, much of Washington, D.C. was shocked by the news of a shooting at Navy Yard [1]. Some buildings went into lockdown. At least one intern got a frightened call from her father. A fellow employee asked me if my husband was safe. But 12 people are dead, and their loved ones now mourn. It was shocking and tragic.

But from media, we hear a familiar regurgitation of anger and disdain. Every time there’s a tragic shooting, the pro-gun [2] and anti-gun [3] commentators raise their voices. The “I told you so!” messages ricochet off each other, with finger pointing and lambasting on both sides. Commentators respond to these deaths as they have to so many—at Virginia Tech, Sandy Hook, and others—with an upsurge of political debate on gun control. In addition, there always seems to be an in-depth psychoanalysis [4]— sometimes akin to morbid fascination—of the killer.

It is true that, in light of the tragedy, some consideration of gun policy is probably a matter-of-course. But to launch into this debate within hours of the shootings seems insensitive and careless. We forget that killing is messy and erratic, and killers even more frighteningly unpredictable. We forget that there is no way to stop all evil people from ever doing evil things, as long as the human mind is possessed with creativity and cleverness. We forget that guns can be dangerous in the wrong hands, and that something must be done to protect the vulnerable.

But most of all, we forget the killed: the people with mourning loved ones, lives cut short. There were 12 of them Monday—NBC News shared their names and stories [5]:

Michael Arnold, 59
Sylvia Frasier, 53
Kathy Gaarde, 62
John Roger Johnson, 73
Frank Kohler, 50
Kenneth Bernard Proctor, 46
Vishnu Pandit, 61
Arthur Daniels, 51
Mary Francis Knight, 51
Gerald L. Read, 58
Martin Bodrog, 54
Michael Ridgell, 52

Kenneth Proctor loved the Redskins. Vishnu Pandit was a native of Bombay, India, who “took great pride in being employed by the United States Navy.” Martin Bodrog had three daughters and taught Sunday School at church. Arthur Daniels’ wife and family shared their story on a local TV channel [6] last night: “Priscilla says her husband Arthur had worked at the Navy Yard off and on as a handyman for 17 years. She says he left for work on Monday at 6:45 a.m. and wasn’t heard from again.” The couple had been married for 30 years, with five children and nine grandchildren.

There are responses to the shootings worth praising for their genuine concern. Rev. Andrew Royals at St. Vincent de Paul, blocks away from the Navy Yard, opened the church doors for mass [7]. Attendees prayed for the victims.

In our democracy, we can be happy that public discourse and media give us the right to comment on important policy issues. But perhaps we need reminding that such a right comes with the responsibility to use it well, for the sake of all those who grieve today.


Follow @gracyolmstead [8]

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#1 Comment By Clint On September 18, 2013 @ 6:45 am

Meanwhile,Andrea Mitchell and Chuck Todd are questioning Obama’s Navy Yard shooting response.

Andrea Mitchell,
“The White House has been significantly off point, it seems to me.The president coming out after this event with some brief remarks about it, but then going into his criticisms of the Republicans over the economy on the fifth anniversary of the Lehman failure.”

Chuck Todd,
“I think they wish they had yesterday back.They are not saying it but you can feel it.It’s been a rough patch for them ever since the Syria crisis and it seems their timing is just a bit off.”

#2 Comment By Henri James On September 18, 2013 @ 9:16 am

Yeah, I don’t know what the ‘right time’ is to start talking about gun control after a shooting is. If you’re somebody that legitimately believes that lax gun regulations are responsible for shootings like this, seems like better sooner after the crime is the best bet, before it starts to fade from people’s memories. May not be very considerate, but if you think guns are to blame being considerate is pushing for laws that you think would prevent this kind of thing.

#3 Comment By SDS On September 18, 2013 @ 10:04 am

AND if you think guns are NOT to blame; people pushing for such laws at such times are seen as opportunistic at best…..

#4 Comment By SDS On September 18, 2013 @ 10:07 am

I’d rather hear talk about the needed mental health care; which also gets lost in the politics….

#5 Comment By TomB On September 18, 2013 @ 10:32 am

Gracy Olmstead wrote:

“We forget that guns can be dangerous in the wrong hands, and that something must be done to protect the vulnerable.”

‘Tis a little head-snapping to see even the implication being made that some new gun laws are necessary being made hard on the heels of the complaint about how “insensitive and careless” it is to launch into the debate about gun policies so soon after this Naval Yard event has taken place.

On the other hand what’s completely understandable and not head-snapping at all is for people to ask how and why these things keep happening out of the completely understandable and indeed laudable desire to prevent any more. And because they *have* asked those reasonable and laudable questions about this shooting we know some answers already, such as:

That, the infamously strict gun laws of D.C. did squat to prevent this;

That, if the other laws that already exist had been enforced this shooter should never have been in possession of any guns anywhere as either a convicted felon or a danger to society and would perhaps still be confined due to same, except that on the at least two previous occasions he went on shooting sprees he was neither charged with any crimes nor subjected to any mental health evaluations;

That, given this shooter was never prosecuted or even examined for those incidents and given that it was the federal government’s own lame background-checking missing same that granted entrance into the naval yard in the first place, this seems just another instance of government failing in its core responsibilities even—such as also providing good enough policing to make people feel safe and keeping the dangerously mentally ill confined—and then having people such as in the government and the media distract from holding government to those core responsibilities by making the debate about how many more of our individual rights and freedoms ought be taken away.

That, as seems clear from not only this shooting but many if not all of the other similar recent horrors, when it does come to those individuals who seem to be exhibiting grave mental problems despite laws on the books allowing government to examine and confine those who present a danger to all the rest of us the government for all-too-suspiciously-politically correct-seeming-reasons often now seems to feel that the only rights at stake lie with the mentally ill to not be so confined and so does nothing.

That, if government had not failed in its core responsibilities here (over and over), and had taken seriously our rights to be free from the dangerously mentally disturbed, we wouldn’t need to be mourning these Naval Yard victims because they wouldn’t have become victims at all.

#6 Comment By TomB On September 18, 2013 @ 10:39 am

P.S., and apropos of my above comment about “people such as in the government and the media distract[ing] from holding government to [its] core responsibilities”:

Just spotted: NY Times headline:

“Suspect’s Past Fell Just Short Of Raising Alarm”

#7 Comment By cash23 On September 18, 2013 @ 12:25 pm

I work on the Hill, in buildings under Congressional jurisdiction. I go through a TSA-style security check 4-6 times a day. I get my person and bags screened when I enter and then get my bags searched when I leave. Total hassle if all I’m doing is leaving my office to meet someone for lunch. But the Hill cops keep the lines moving.

On the other hand, entering the Navy Yard is a bureaucratic hassle that accomplishes exactly zero in terms of security. If you’re a visitor, there’s lots of paperwork, including supplying proof of your auto insurance is up to date if you’re planning to drive a car into the Yard (but they won’t guarantee you’ll find parking).

But wait in line to complete all the paperwork and you’re good to go. No security check in terms of what you’re bring in or taking out.

Which makes the Navy’s security scheme a joke. A concern with form than ignores substance.

The Yard’s security probably did everything it was supposed to vis-a-vis Monday’s shooter. All his paperwork was in order. Did anyone look at what was in his backpack when he walked past security? Of course not. The Navy doesn’t care about that.

#8 Comment By robby On September 18, 2013 @ 4:32 pm

I don’t see how gun controls will relate to this shooting, but it seems like the default is always to ‘wait to talk about things’ and that’s turned to code for, ‘cool off and eventually let everyone forget about it’

#9 Comment By robby On September 18, 2013 @ 4:37 pm

hard to say that incarcerating a few people who maybe don’t need it is a small price to pay to keep the rest of us safe. that seems like the logic of anti-terrorism, that we can somehow get to a 100% safety, which we cannot. a pillar of our country is that we don’t just lockup (in prisons or asylums) the people that seem ‘not right’ without just cause and due process. if that makes us a little less safe, that’s one part of the price of ‘freedom’ don’t you think?

#10 Pingback By Morning Round-Up 9-18 | Sharing Liberty On September 18, 2013 @ 6:16 pm

[…] The Navy Yard Names Lost in the Politics […]

#11 Comment By TomB On September 19, 2013 @ 12:28 pm

Hi robby:

I suppose one can read your comments in either one of two ways:

A.) That you just misread my comment as calling for more than the law now allows in terms of locking up mentally ill people who are dangers either to themselves or others, in which case we don’t disagree as I did not. Instead I just pointed out that our existing laws, which do allow the evaluation, confinement and treatment of those poor souls who are dangers to themselves or others, were just simply and totally not enforced with this Naval Yard shooter. Despite two instances of strange gunplay by him, and despite him reporting to the police that he was hearing voices. Not even one such evaluation of him was undertaken.

B.) That you essentially agree with the non-enforcement of the present laws given the admittedly non-certain nature of diagnoses of potential harmfulness of an individual, in which case I just disagree with you.

As noted however I recognize the relative degree of uncertainty that exists in psychiatric/psychological diagnoses, and believe that the Courts have to be very careful in not willy-nilly approving confinements and treatments based on same.

But my feeling is we have gone too far in the opposite direction when, as in this Naval Yard incident, as in some of the others that have taken place recently, there’s not even any attempt *made* to obtain a diagnosis by the State despite its possession of knowledge of clear psychotic-like talk or behavior by the perpetrators.

And not only am I moved to support the enforcement of our existing laws concerning this issue by a belief that the rest of us have rights too, such as to prevent being attacked by such perpetrators, but out of concern for those poor individuals as well: I can hardly imagine a worse torture for any individual to be put through than a bout of profound mental illness such as occurs via schizophrenia or paranoia without treatment. I have seen it, close up, and for those who have not can only suggest trying to imagine the horror and terror of your mind telling you—and indeed *showing* you via visual hallucinations—that you are being constantly watched, tormented or hunted by someone with the most evil intentions possible. In fact in its full it’s probably unimaginable.

Unfortunately, I believe, we’ve seen the political system ignoring this and all too conveniently justify its failures to do what it should be doing for them (and us) by oh-so-conveniently seizing upon the dangers of misdiagnosing and confining someone.

In short, just simply more of what was seen in the de-instutionalizing movement of some decades past, when politicians seized upon the call to not be confining the mentally ill so as to eliminate even the wretched levels of funding they provided for them before.

Far more votes to be garnered by sending that money to one’s special interest groups after all…

#12 Comment By Max Planck On September 22, 2013 @ 10:17 am

This piece only shows the lengths people will go to for those who maintain the pathology that personal gun ownership is a “right” that transcends the need for safety of the general population. First, no mental health care professional can predict the potential for violent action in a patient. The author would do well to consult those practitioners who actually TREAT and DIAGNOSE these people on a regular basis.
Secondly, the idea that we have the ability or even the desire to “track” these unstable people so they can’t obtain a firearm is preposterous.

Looking at my Twitter feed, it seems to me the gun owners are the ones who should be locked up. To a man, they are obnoxious, unwashed, have absolutely no regard whatsoever for the safety and welfare of their fellow citizens, despite their use of patriotic insignia and declarations of “freedom” and have some issues handling testosterone. This is who the 2nd Amendment is ostensibly protecting: America’s most ignorant.