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Gun Violence Prevention

Regardless of our personal perspectives and political ideologies, we are all united in our desire to reduce gun violence in our country. The framework produced by bipartisan negotiations in the Senate is a great start, but much more work is needed.

Rather than rehashing the same arguments and espousing one size fits all solutions that have a limited chance of being enacted, it's time to focus on the common goal and tackle it with the same fervor as the seemingly impossible task of putting a man on the moon by the end of the 1960s.

Consider this:

  • The rate of gun violence in the Unites States far exceeds other countries.

  • We have over 400 million guns and over 20 million assault style weapons.

  • Security guards and/or armed teachers might reduce the number of deaths in mass shooting rampages, but they won't prevent them.

  • In addition to the fact that guns are an integral part of our culture, the number of guns and assault style weapons are simply too large to believe that reduction in gun ownership is feasible or would meaningfully impact the problem.

The bottom line: There is no simple or quick solution to the problem.

A new framework

I propose a new framework for gun violence prevention, with a primary emphasis on mass shootings:

  • Set a national goal for reducing gun violence: 50% reduction in 10 years.

  • Empower state and local governments to initiate and or redouble work on regional approaches to gun violence reduction.

  • Support regional efforts at the federal level with data collection and sharing of best practices.

  • Involve social media companies by leveraging the science they currently use to target advertising based on users' browsing habits to create algorithms that identify words or language that are indicative of possible threats.

  • Complete structured reviews of all mass shooting events to identify and mitigate contributory factors, similar to a root-cause analysis adopted during "sentinel events" in healthcare.

  • Engage voters in the process: vote out politicians that aren't part of the solution.

Threat assessment & attack prevention

Trigger Points, a recently published book by Mark Follman, details the emerging field of behavioral threat assessment. Behavioral threat assessment leverages the synergy of mental health and law enforcement expertise. The overall approach is similar to established practices for preventing terrorist attacks.

Essentially, Follman argues, it is much less important to determine why people commit mass shootings than it is to understand how they reach the point of attacking. Similarly, it is impossible to predict who will go on the next rampage by focusing on types of people, but behaviors that predict the risk of an attack fall into eight broad areas:

  • Entrenched grievances

  • Patterns of aggression or violence

  • Stalking behavior

  • Threatening communications

  • Emulation of previous attackers

  • Personal deterioration

  • Triggering events

  • Attack planning and preparation

From a basis of behavioral threat assessment, we can consider how to prevent future attacks. Case evidence shows that virtually every attack was planned and thought out over a period of days, weeks, or months. In other words, mass shootings are preceded by a window of opportunity to intervene! The planning process includes not only getting to the point of being committed to carrying out the attack, but also obtaining the ability and means to carry out the attack.

Positive inhibitors & getting proactive

Acts of targeted violence, including domestic violence, workplace strife, and mass shootings are "the end result of an understandable and often discernible process of thinking and behavior" (Follman). Many rampage shooters are suicidal. A solution to their anger and suffering is a deliberate public performance that allows them to "make a statement." Investigation by FBI threat assessment researchers of 63 active shooters who struck between 2000 and 2013 confirmed that only a quarter of them were known to have been professionally diagnosed with a mental illness of any kind. Once troubling behaviors are identified, the challenge is to cultivate "positive inhibitors" such as pro-social opportunities and relationships.

We have to be proactive about detectable dangers. Effective threat assessment programs in schools include detailing warning signs, establishing a set of evaluative questions, establishing processes for information sharing, addressing legal and privacy considerations, and ensuring proper investigative documentation. Effective programs require a group of people with different professional perspectives using a team approach. Effective programs build community trust, emphasizing that everyone has a part to play in detecting and managing "the danger."

Learning from past tragedies & speaking up

In the Salem-Keizer school district in Oregon, experts developed a threat assessment process for students.

Beyond school gun violence, FBI has established a Behavioral Assessment Unit that has handled between 150 and 200 new cases per year in partnership with agencies and institutions around the country, from local police departments to large public universities. None of the subjects of those cases has gone on to commit an act of targeted violence!

An FBI Behavioral Assessment Unit analysis spanning more than a decade of 63 gun rampages in schools, workplaces, and other public venues found that:

  • Most shooters lived with or had social interactions with other people, and they displayed observable warning behaviors more than two years prior to their attack.

  • Shooters came from all walks of life and nearly all of them used legally obtained firearms.

Sandy Hook Promise is a rich resource of information. Here's a post that can be shared with others that contains warning signs and other tips for preventing gun violence.

A key point to reinforce is that silence is dangerous!

Cultivating a climate of safety, particularly in schools, requires changing a culture where a "code of silence" often prevails. In schools and elsewhere, speaking up needs to be viewed as good citizenship, and even a potentially heroic act. Such an act of good citizenship may have prevented a deadly riot in Coeur D'Alene, Idaho last weekend.

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