Above all, Monday's shooting should give urgency to efforts to enact more rational gun laws. No, we don't yet know, as the investigation proceeds, what might have slowed or stopped Mr. Alexis. And, no, no law or reform could prevent every mass killing. But sensible protections would make it more difficult for the wrong people to get guns and for the wrong guns which serve no law-abiding or sporting purpose to be so readily available.
Mr. Alexis was a troubled person who had several run-ins with the law but was allowed to purchase a gun because he was never convicted of a felony, and his mental issues didn't disqualify him under restrictions imposed by a 1968 federal law. Only if he had been adjudicated to be mentally defective or had been involuntarily committed would he have been prohibited from purchasing a gun.
Mental health has figured in other recent mass shootings: Jared Lee Loughner in a Tucson parking lot in 2011 and James Eagan Holmes in an Aurora, Colo., movie theater to name two. But there is no mechanism in place that allows considered or expert judgment of who should be barred from owning a weapon. Someone who had been involuntarily committed and successfully treated may be a better candidate for gun ownership than someone under treatment from a psychiatrist who sees a danger. But the law doesn't permit such distinctions.
In the aftermath of the mass shooting that unsettled America the slaughter of 20 Connecticut schoolchildren the solution offered by the National Rifle Association was to place armed guards in every school. "The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun," said Wayne LaPierre, the group's chief executive. There were plenty of good guys at the Navy Yard Monday morning, many of them with guns.
All of us at risk because of gun-rights zealotry, deserve leaders with the guts to trade in the NRA's nonsense for some common sense.