Commentary: Let’s Focus on the Guns Rather Than the Gunman

Aaron Alexis was a troubled man who inflicted horror at the Washington Navy Yard, but access to guns is also a horror.

Posted: 09/17/2013 12:10 PM EDT

So, now it is widely known that Aaron Alexis, the gunman who went on a shooting rampage, is not only a former Navy reservist, but also a man with a military career characterized by what his superiors called a “pattern of misbehavior.”

Despite all of that, much will be made of the fact that he was also African-American. While that fact may not be heralded by folks on the television networks, with the possible exception of the pundits on Fox, it is nonetheless bound to be a topic of discussion in households around the country, many of them African-American as well.

While Alexis’ racial background is undoubtedly attracting attention, it is no more significant than the ethnicity of Adam Lanza, the man who fatally shot 20 children and six adult staff members in another horrific mass murder at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut.

What is significant, and deeply disturbing, is that when Alexis was killed as part of the carnage, law enforcement officials found on him an AR-15 assault rifle, a shotgun and a semiautomatic pistol. That should renew the public discussion on the need to reform the nation’s gun laws.

On the surface, that discussion never seems to bear much lasting fruit. Nearly a year after Sandy Hook, the killing of Hadiya Pendleton and countless young people in Chicago, the nation seems to find itself in the same place. We’re galvanized by the horror of a mass shooting that is nothing short of a terror, a public outcry takes place but then the moment passes.

The pattern also includes the National Rifle Association flexing its muscles to demolish any public sentiment toward reforming gun ownership or registration laws. The NRA packs a pretty mean punch, as the country witnessed in the recent recall of Colorado legislators who were supporters of gun control measures.

Yet, there is a growing unease with business as usual. It will be amplified as the nation begins to watch the funerals of the 12 victims of Alexis’ shooting spree. Just as the nation collectively mourned for the children of Sandy Hook, so, too, will there be national grieving in this most recent tragedy.

The hope is that this incident will further fuel the level of outrage about a culture with laws that enable most anyone to get access to powerful assault weapons. The focus should not be so much on the individual shooter — after all, mass murders typically don’t discriminate against people based on any particular criteria. They are the handiwork of deranged people who should never have access to firearms in a country with a culture far too willing to make them accessible.

The opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of BET Networks.

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 (Photo: Scott Olson/Getty Images)

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