When army psychiatrist Nidal Malik Hasan massacred 13 U.S. soldiers at Fort Hood, Texas Nov. 5, 2009 his behavior was dismissed as a lone assassin. When the dust settled after 30 serious injuries and 13 deaths, it turned out that the devout Palestinian had ongoing e-mail correspondence with al-Qaeda’s 40-year-old Yemen-based, U.S.-born radical cleric Anwar al-Awlaki. It was just a matter of time before another Muslim soldier copied Hasan’s rampage. When Kileen, Texas police picked up 21-year-old Pfc. Naser Abdo July 27 they found guns and bomb-making material. Abdo was arrested in his motel room by FBI agents with “items that could be identified as bomb-making components, including gunpowder.” All indications point toward a plot to carry on Hasan’s mayhem, something that could have been prevented had Hasan’s colleagues and superiors paid closer attention.
Most carefully planned violent acts can be intercepted before they occur if ordinary citizens and authorities pay attention and get on the same page. Kileen, Texas-based gun dealer Guns Galore LLC showed such vigilance, when salesman Greg Ebert notified Kileen police about what he thought was suspicious behavior. Guns Galore was one of the gun stores where Hasan purchased a revolver used during his Fort Hood massacre. Ebert confirmed that he sold Abdo six pounds of smokeless gunpowder, three boxes of shotgun cartridges and a clip for a semiautomatic handgun, all for about $250. ”(We) felt uncomfortable with his overall demeanor and the fact he didn’t know what the hell he was buying,” said Ebert, explaining why he contacted local authorities. “I thought it prudent to contact the local authorities, which I did,” said Ebert, not explaining why he sold Abdo anything at all.
With all do respect to Ebert following his “common sense,” he should have never sold Abdo anything if he felt in any way suspicious or uncomfortable. Selling a suspicious customer potentially bomb-making materials doesn’t show the kind of prudence required to prevent violent acts. Whether Abdo worked or alone or in a conspiracy, gun dealers need extra caution when selling dangerous weapons and bomb-making materials. FBI officials plan to charge Abdo with possessing bomb-making materials, transferring custody to federal authorities. FBI spokesman Erik Vasys said there was no indication that Abdo worked in concert with anyone else. “I would emphasize that any kind of threat that Abdo posed is now over,” said Vasys, despite Ebert’s decision to sell Abdo dangerous materials. Intercepting violence involves preempting events before they occur.
Abdo’s dangerous psychopathic behavior was evidenced by the fact he applied at Fort Campbell, Kentucky for “conscientious objector” status, a exemption of military service for valid religious or philosophical reasons. Abdo apparently went AWOL July 4 after his “conscientious objector” status hearing was delayed after he was found possessing child pornography, facing a an Article 32 hearing recommending courts-martial. Abdo’s particular case illustrates, like Hasan’s, how dangerous psychopaths can cause the kind of mayhem seen when Hasan went berserk Nov. 5, 2009. If Washington can finally get over its senseless wrangling, it should focus on federal gun-control legislation that keeps firearms and explosives out of the hands of dangerous psychopathic or psychotic assassins. No gun dealer should be selling gunpowder to anyone without proper vetting.
When senior English student Seung-Hui Cho massacred 32 students and faculty at Virginia Tech April 16, 2007, no one scrutinized his long history of mental illness before selling him weapons at a local gun shop. Most serial killers and mass murders give plenty of advance warning before their rampages. Not even the most ardent Second Amendment advocates can possibly object to keeping guns and bomb-making materials out of the hands of dangerous psychopaths and psychotics. While no one expects sales clerks to act as shrinks or psychics, effective gun control legislation requires proper vetting before turning over dangerous weapons or explosives. Abdo’s case presents real problems for the U.S. military, trying, on the one hand, to not discriminate against Muslim recruits, while, on the other hand, properly vetting soldiers for potentially subversive activities.
Intercepting violent behavior is no easy task as evidenced by the all-too often bloody mop-up operations after the fact. Abdo’s case was a real improvement from Hasan’s Fort Hood massacre, where a known al-Qaeda sympathizer slipped under the radar and committed mass murder. Instead of bickering about the debt ceiling, the White House and Congress should spend more time figuring out how to purge the military of subversives and make today’s gun control laws work for ordinary citizens. “At this time, there has been no incident at Forth Hood,” read a prepared statement. “We continue our diligence in keeping force protection at appropriate levels,” pleased that another psychopathic or psychotic lone wolf was preempted from violence. Military and civilian officials must do a better job of vetting personnel before selling or issuing them weapons and explosives.
About the Author
John M. Curtis writes politically neutral commentary analyzing spin in national and global news. He’s editor of OnlineColumnist.com and author of Dodging The Bullet and Operation Charisma.