WASHINGTON — Greater efforts are needed to identify and lock up mentally ill people who are dangerous, a top National Rifle Association official responding to the recent Washington Navy Yard shootings said Sunday.
The nation’s mental health system is ‘‘in complete breakdown,’’ resulting in not enough of the mentally ill being committed to psychiatric hospitals, National Rifle Association executive vice president Wayne LaPierre said on NBC’s ‘‘Meet the Press.’’
‘‘If we leave these homicidal maniacs on the street . . . they’re going to kill,’’ he said. ‘‘They need to be committed is what they need to be. If they are committed, they’re not at the Naval Yard.’’
Aaron Alexis, the IT contractor who killed 12 people inside a Navy Yard building last week, had a history of violent outbursts, had told police he was hearing voices, and was in the early stages of being treated by the Veterans Administration for serious mental problems.
Despite Alexis’s history, weaknesses in federal laws aimed at keeping guns out of the hands of the mentally ill and criminals enabled him to clear a background check and obtain a shotgun that he used in the shooting from a Northern Virginia gun shop.
Doctors who treated Alexis should have carried out ‘‘a complete mental health status exam,’’ Senator Tom Coburn, Republican of Oklahoma, told CBS’s ‘‘Face the Nation.’’
‘‘We have to make it where the health care professionals in this country, when they see somebody that is having symptoms of psychosis or schizophrenia, that they can act on that by notifying the ‘do not sell’ list so that people can’t buy guns,’’ he said. Alexis “bought a gun in spite of the fact that at several interchanges people were aware of his psychosis.’’
At the same time, Senator Joe Manchin, Democrat of West Virginia, the coauthor of a bill to expand background checks to more gun purchasers, acknowledged the bill remains stalled in the Senate. He told CBS he has no intention of renewing his effort to pass the measure in light of the Navy Yard shootings unless he sees movement by opponents.
‘‘I’m not going to go out there and just beat the drum for the sake of beating the drum,’’ he said. ‘‘There has to be people willing to move off the position they’ve taken, and they’ve got to come to that conclusion themselves.’’
Alexis bought a Remington 870 Express shotgun and about two dozen shells barely 48 hours before the attack.
Officials said he bought the shotgun legally at a shop in northern Virginia and altered it with a sawed-down barrel and shoulder stock.
Alexis was able to make the purchase after showing his valid Texas driver’s license and passing both a state and federal background check.
The gun purchase was traced by the FBI within hours of the rampage. Oddly, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives was left out of the loop.
It was a surprising snub between two top US law enforcement agencies that occurred as the ATF struggles to show its relevance in Washington.