What are we going to do about mass, public shootings which not only exact a terrible physical and psychic toll on our society, but also appear to be on the rise? Well, there’s two ways we can go. One way is to believe that the stupid, self-promotions of people like John Lott about ‘gun-free’ zones and armed citizens can provide a measure of safety and security. The other way is to sit down with the professionals in the field who are intently trying to figure out the problem based on real data and real-world experiences and listen to what they have to say.
The latter response is the basis of an important article in Mother Jones by Mark Follman, who writes frequently about guns and gun violence for the Mother as well as for just about every major news venue that can be found. This article is based primarily on a threat assessment conference that Mark attended in August at which 700 professionals got together to share ideas, experiences and strategies for what might and might not work to identify and stop mass shooters before they hit the ground. The conference was sponsored by the Association of Threat Assessment Professionals (ATAP), which comprises law enforcement officers, forensic psychologists, private security consultants, representatives of school districts, researchers; in other words, the people whose job it is to protect all of us from mass shooting events. The annual conference was held this year at Disneyland because public amusement parks are considered a Numero Uno attraction for anyone who wants to commit serious mayhem with a gun.
I’m going to pause right here for a moment and tell you why Wayne LaPierre wasn’t invited to this conference, despite the fact that he postures himself as an expert on how to respond to mass shooting events. The NRA response to every type of gun violence – ‘good guys with guns stop bad guys with guns’ – may get an enthusiastic response from everyone who suffers from arrested development when it comes to fantasizing walking around with a gun, but it’s nothing more than a shabby marketing ploy to sell more guns.
In that respect it should be noted, incidentally, that the conference attendees were near-unanimous in their belief that easy access to guns, particularly guns that are favored by mass shooters like AR-15s, make these events not only more probable, but also more lethal. This wasn’t the opinion of a bunch of tree-hugging, liberal do-gooders who want to get rid of guns. This was the consensus view of law enforcement and security specialists who spend all their time trying to figure out what to do. Nobody at the conference wasted a moment talking about the 2nd Amendment; it was simply recognized that when you have so many guns lying around, this creates more problems for professionals who are trying to stop mass killings in which invariably guns are used.
One of the reasons that the professionals dealing with mass shooters don’t come out and tell people like John Lott where to get off is because the nature of the task which confronts them requires that they operate in a non-public mode. For example, the FBI has a special unit at Quantico that brings together specialists from five federal agencies in an effort to assist local police departments in identifying and tracking mass shooting threats. Since 2012 this group has taken on more than 400 cases, in other words, good guys using computers to stop bad guys with guns.
Identifying a mass shooter means figuring out a probable profile and then figuring out who fits the profile before the shooting begins. I came away from reading this article with a greater awareness of the difficulties and challenges precisely because sometimes the mass-shooting profile fits and sometimes it does not. But the profiles are all the same in one respect: these shooters all have in common the ease with which they get their hands on guns.