Naval Yard shooting spree ignites outrage over base’s “gun-free zone” designation

Sep 16, 2013 at 3:05 PM ET

In the chaos and confusion surrounding the deadly shooting spree at the Washington Navy Yard, a flurry of outrage ignited on social media over the idea that the military compound was a “gun-free zone.”

To recap: Washington D.C. police and military authorities say at least 14 people were killed, including the alleged shooter, now identified as Aaron Alexis, and several others were wounded at the The Naval Sea Systems Command buildings at the Naval Yard. The sprawling base—the largest of the Navy’s five system commands, where workers build and maintain the Navy’s ships and submarines—stretches along the Anacostia River in Southeast D.C. and employs more than 3,000 people, Navy officials said. In a mid-day news conference, D.C. Police Chief Cathy Lanier said one of the suspected shooters was dead, while authorities were looking for up to two other suspects. Witnesses describe the shooters as clad in military-style clothing.

The Navy Yard’s rules for guns are not unlike that at other U.S. military bases: Personal weapons are prohibited. That, however, doesn’t mean the Navy Yard was a gun-free zone, allowing shooters to rampage unchecked for several minutes before outside law enforcement was able to respond. Military police were on duty at the base as the mayhem unfolded.

Anger spread across social media over the belief that unarmed workers on the base were sitting ducks.



Others on Twitter sought to clarify the “gun free zone” phrase that got taken out of context in social media.



Some noted that military police in uniform might have been mistaken as possible gunmen as questions swirl over whether there was more than one shooter.

A helicopter pulls a possible shooting victim from the Navy Yard. Reuters

A helicopter pulls a possible shooting victim from the Navy Yard. Reuters

Though schools and shopping malls are the most common gun-free zones, prohibiting soldiers from carrying personal weapons on base dates back to March 1993. Under then-President Bill Clinton, the military imposed regulations forbidding personnel from carrying their personal firearms and making it almost impossible for commanders to issue firearms to soldiers for personal protection. The move was aimed at keeping personnel and other base staff safe while working.

Last year, the Pentagon moved to tighten rules to keep troops at high risk of suicide from keeping their personal firearms in their homes.

For gun rights advocates, limiting the ability a soldier or officer has to his or her weapons leads to tragedies like the mass shooting at Fort Hood in 2009.  Many gun groups have argued that shooter Maj. Nidal Hasan might have been stopped sooner had soldiers kept their guns with them.


The following opinion(s) were not solicited by the author and aren’t the views of Vocativ, but we love hearing from our readers. So please send us your points of view at Maybe we’ll make it a part of the piece.

Whether you’re pro-gun control or against it, in the midst of a shooting tragedy, should politics take a back seat until the facts are revealed? One Tennessean says yes. Here is Clay Layton’s point of view:

When a mass shooting event such as this one takes place, many different emotions rise to the surface. Anger and blame are knee-jerk reactions, and this situation certainly generated a storm of heated debate on social media. From gun control, to political posturing, both sides lined up to bash one another. The tragedy of those killed was lost in the arguments for stricter gun control laws. Moments that should be reserved for empathy and reflection quickly degenerated into a mud-slinging contest that advanced neither side’s cause.

I believe, however, that some of the “celebrity” tweets from earlier in the day were insensitive and inappropriate considering the situation was still unfolding and the “facts” were changing every few minutes.

Climbing up on your digital pedestal to politicize a tragedy is vile, plain and simple. People were still running for their lives in the Washington Navy Yard, while these detached observers shamelessly spewed their propaganda amongst their followers and fans. Apparently, money doesn’t buy wisdom or self-control.

My name is Clay Layton, I’m a history and political science enthusiast from Memphis, Tennessee. I’m 27 years old, and a supporter of center-right politics. Tweet me at @CMLayton. 

Matt MacBradaigh, a writer who follows Second Amendment issues, is shaking his head over political calls for more action on gun control. Here is Matt’s point of view:

In the wake of the Navy Yard shooting spree, Senator Dianne Feinstein renewed her perennial call for more gun control laws. Feinstein said: “When will enough be enough? Congress must stop shirking its responsibility and resume a thoughtful debate on gun violence in this country.”

Which begs the question, what could have been done that was not already done that might have prevented this tragedy?

The Washington Navy Yard is a military installation located in the nation’s capital. As a military site, it is a gun-free zone. (Note: having armed guards do not make it technically not a gun-free zone; schools are gun-free zones under federal law, but often have armed guards.) Because the Navy Yard inside D.C., it is illegal to carry a gun outside of your home. Access to the facility requires passing an armed checkpoint. It doesn’t get much more “controlled” than that.

“This is one more event to add to the litany of massacres that occur when a deranged person or grievance killer is able to obtain multiple weapons—including a military-style assault rifle—and kill many people in a short amount of time,” Feinstein said.

Local NBC news reported that the attack began with a shotgun, but by the end of the incident, the attacker also had picked up a 9mm pistol and an AR-15 from a fallen security officer, a victim of the shooting. CNN also reported that, “sources, who have detailed knowledge of the investigation, cautioned that the initial information that an AR-15 was used in the shootings may have been incorrect,” that the weapons besides the shotgun “may have been taken from guards at the Navy complex.” So “obtain” in this case appears to mean taking off the body of a murdered police officer armed with such weapons. One wonders what law even could prevent such a thing occurring in the future.

Matt MacBradaigh lives in the Pacific Northwest and writes about Gun Control, Gun Rights and Second Amendment Policy for several news sites. Follow him on twitter @atomiktiger