Jim Glynn’s opinion piece on school shootings in the Sept. 1 Madera Tribune struck a nerve with me. I have been studying this phenomenon for years during my time as a police officer and as a security consultant (ever since Columbine).
Most of what was said in Jim’s article about school shootings is accurate. I appreciate what Jim is trying to do. There is a danger here, however. If people over-simplify the problem it’s not going to result in a workable solution. You cannot simply pass a piece of legislation to solve the problem. The problem of mass shootings is complex and people have to accept that.
Understanding why mass shootings happen seems to be the first thing the uninformed public wants to know. Knowing why is only part of a more complex solution. Sociological theory alone will not solve the problem of mass shootings.
Mass shootings in schools are usually different than those in a business, mall, church, or government facility. A person attacks all those places for different reasons. They have different motivations. A student may have social issues where an employee may have financial or marital issues, and someone who attacks a church may be doing it as a hate crime.
Most mass shootings can be prevented. The solution is twofold.
First, whenever possible, the potential attacker should be identified. This involves observations made by peers, employers, teachers, or anyone in proximity to the subject.
An extensive FBI study recently conducted of incidents over the past 18 years shows that nearly all mass-shooting suspects have a number of different stressors in their lives. Also, nearly all mass-shooting suspects engage in certain behaviors in the days, weeks, or months leading up to the attack.
Most active shooters have multiple stressors such as mental health issues, financial strain, job problems, marital problems, drug and alcohol abuse, and sexual stress or frustration.
Often, the pre-attack behaviors include acting out in an abusive, harassing or oppressive manner, leakage (communicating their intent to another person), discord in on-going relationships with family friends or colleagues, contextually inappropriate behavior involving firearms, risk-taking, violent media usage, suicidal thoughts or attempts.
In many instances the shooter has experienced enough of the above listed stressors that they feel their life is over and their last act is going to be killing the person or group with whom they have a grievance. The other victims in the shootings are simply in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Many people have some of these stressors in their lives and that does not make them a mass killer but when enough of these stressors and behaviors are observed they should be reported to supervisors, or law enforcement so the proper type of intervention can take place.
Not all potential mass killers can be identified prior to their attack, which brings us the second part of prevention.
An absolute necessity is having effective physical security. This is not just having cameras, alarm systems, or guards. It should be well planned, overlapping layers of security equipment, facility design, and policies and procedures that include planning, training, and on-going maintenance and refinement.
The security system must delay the attacker until help arrives. If you wait until you hear the first shot, lives have already been lost.
Cal/OSHA has recognized this and will be requiring all employers to develop workplace violence prevention plans and training within the next two years.
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Martin Aubin lives in Madera and has 35 years in law enforcement and security consulting. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.