The mass shooting at the Washington, D.C., Navy Yard should come as no surprise. Mass shootings are an increasingly recurrent manifestation of life in the United States of America. This one is merely the latest.
Certainly, the details always vary. This time the crime scene wasn’t a theater or a school. Like the shooting at Fort Hood in 2009, Monday’s violence occurred at a military base – in fact, the oldest military installation in America. First opened in 1799, the Navy Yard contains 2 million feet of office space in a phalanx of buildings on the shore of the Anacostia River. It was in Building 197, where Navy ships are designed and engineered, that the killings unfolded.
According to preliminary police reports, Aaron Alexis, a Navy Reserve veteran and civilian employee of a defense contractor, made his way to the building's fourth floor and began shooting down into an atrium that includes a cafeteria. Twelve were killed before the gunman himself was shot by police.
The death toll places this incident among the 12 worst mass shootings in U.S. history. Seven of those incidents have happened since 1999, when two students went on a killing rampage at Columbine High School in Colorado. Since then, there have been mass slayings at Virginia Tech, in Binghamton, N.Y., at the aforementioned Ft. Hood, at the theater in Aurora, Colo., the grade school in Newtown, Conn., and now the Navy Yard.
Of course, there have been many other shooting incidents that produced a smaller death toll, yet were still horrific. In 2012, besides Aurora and Newtown, there were 14 other major incidents of gun violence, including the slaughter of six worshipers at a Sikh temple in suburban Milwaukee, five patrons at a coffee shop in Seattle and seven at Oikos University in Oakland.
Sometimes a shooting is racially motivated, sometimes driven by ideology, but, more often, it is a case of some disaffected person with a history of mental instability acting out a twisted fantasy or simply striking out in untethered rage. Often the shooters are enthusiasts of violent video games. Always, they are men. And always, of course, they use firearms that are readily available in a country whose gun laws are hobbled by the power of gun rights fanatics backed by the money of the firearms industry.
After Newtown and Aurora, a lot of earnest people said it was time, at last, to confront the scourge of gun violence perpetrated by mentally unstable men. That has not happened, to no one’s surprise, just as it will be no surprise when the next mass shooting briefly dominates the news in the months to come. Mass shootings have become as constant as the weather, as inevitable as hurricanes and floods and, tragically, as American as the Fourth of July.