We might be able to stop some mass shootings

Sometime in the past decade, America has resigned itself to thinking of mass shootings as if they were an inevitable natural disaster.

Like tornadoes or earthquakes, these local disasters appear out of nowhere and can happen to any of us. Yet, even though they are estimated to cause less than 1% of all gun deaths, mass shootings take a toll that far outweighs their numbers, undermining our collective sense of well-being and public safety. Is.

And as is the case for natural disasters, the most our country now seems to be able to do about mass shootings is the hold drill to prepare for their inevitability. But in a fascinating new book, “Trigger Points: Inside the Mission to Stop Mass Shootings in America,” journalist Mark Folman makes the case that despite our irreconcilable political and cultural differences, mass shootings are not inevitable.

Folman argues that even in the absence of strong gun regulations, we are making progress in understanding and preventing perhaps the most notable forms of mass shootings, in which three or more people are killed intentionally and seemingly indiscriminately. Often by a lone attacker.

“Who are we? mental health experts, academic researchers, state and federal law enforcement officials, and administrators at schools and universities across the country. Fallman explores the history and promise of a cross-disciplinary field, known as a “behavioral threat assessment”, a set of ideas to help officers identify and redirect a potential shooter away from violence. set. At the core of models is the assumption that they take time to form, they usually follow a predictable pattern, and if you know what to look for, you can sometimes take them a long way. , and maybe even stop them from happening. All.

Models vary, but behavioral hazard assessments typically involve placing teams of trained counselors and administrators into schools, colleges, workplaces, and other settings where shootings may occur. In order to prevent a person from hitting others, these teams look for patterns of behavior that research has shown that people display on a large scale attack path. Attackers’ “warning behavior” includes aggression and violence, stalking, threatening communication, fascination with past shooters and, of course, planning and preparing an attack.

Folman follows a threat team with nearly 40,000 students at Salem-Keiser Public School, a district in Oregon that was the first of its kind in the country to adopt a behavioral threat assessment. One of the team’s cases involved a 17-year-old who came to the attention of the Salem-Keiser Threat Response Team in 2019 after teachers and students made several horrific statements to him.

“Don’t come to school this Friday,” one student heard the boy say. “I’m coming back here with my dad’s semi-automatic and shooting the spot.” Last spring, the boy told a teacher that instead of taking part in an anti-gun violence rally for students, “Maybe I’ll shoot the school instead.”

The Threat Team — a group of more than a dozen experts in education, mental health, social services and juvenile justice — responded with a full-court press release. A resource officer visited the boy’s home to check his access to firearms. The team kept in close contact with his mother, pressured her to keep the gun safe, and discussed security with the parents to whom the boy had gone. He appointed security officers to keep an eye on his movements around the school.

By the end of the intervention, the boy’s behavior seemed to have changed. He told administrators he regretted making the horrifying remarks, and asked about getting in touch with the risk team’s lead psychologist.

There’s no way to know for sure whether the Salem-Keiser team’s response prevented the shooting or suicide, or simply helped a troubled child at risk of falling through the cracks—though Folman feels the team was able to stop him from planning. Was able and think about violence after taking important steps.

Behavioral threat assessment in no way undermines the need for better gun laws. Quite the opposite: stricter gun rules can assist assessment teams in keeping guns away from people displaying dangerous patterns of behavior – not to mention addressing the thousands of others lost to guns each year.

But the behavioral threat assessment moves the discussion about mass shootings beyond the gun debate. It is a practical recognition of the world we live in – a world in which we are unlikely to get strict gun laws anytime soon and even if we do, we still have an estimated hundreds of millions of guns floating around. In that world, we need some other way out of this endless parade of mass gun violence. Behavior assessment may be the best tool we have.

Farhad Manju is a New York Times columnist.

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