How to prevent school shootings. What a load of crap!
Think school shootings are a big problem? They certainly seem to be. Make for compelling news! Very engaging...great to grab viewers. Except school shootings aren't a major problem, not even close.
Since 1970, approx 50 kids are shot each year. Typically between 20 & 30% of those are killed. Recently the number of kids shots have ticked up to about 100 (our population has increased).
This is similar to the number of people killed each year by lightning strikes.
Homicides in total? Over 25,000 last year in the US. Over 500 times more folks killed elsewhere.
Suicides and Opioid deaths? About 45,000/per year.
COVID deaths. Thank god that's under control. By, that I mean between 200 and 400 per day! Guess that's not under control. We just learned to live with that?
And we're still talking about school shootings, allocating resources, wasting time when we could be talking about preventing suicides. Something we can actually move the dial on.
Think we can meaningfully reduce the number of school shootings? My how much? By comparison, reducing the suicide rate by only 20% would save almost 10,000 lives per year.
Except that moving the dial isn't what's important. Getting engagement on news stories is. And School shooting are money in the bank to news, media and the like.
How We Can Prevent School Shootings
Active-shooter drills don’t head off tragedies, but collaborative threat-assessment teams can recognize threatening behavior in time to intervene
PHOTO: PHOTO BY SCOTT OLSON/GETTY IMAGES
By Mark Follman, WSJ
May 12, 2022 12:49 pm ET
When a 15-year-old student opened fire at Oxford High School in Michigan last November, according to police, students and teachers quickly hid in classrooms and barricaded doors. Police rushed in and apprehended the alleged shooter within about three minutes. Authorities praised the school’s lockdown drills and other preparations for saving lives. One official described the collective response as “executed perfectly.”
But the preparedness and heroism did not keep four students from being killed. Six other students and a teacher suffered gunshot wounds. Residents of Oxford Township, just north of Detroit, were traumatized. When the county prosecutor announced murder and terrorism charges against the accused shooter, she made an important observation: “We really can’t train ourselves out of this tragedy.”
Much of America still has not learned that lesson, even as mass shootings have grown more frequent and more lethal in the past decade. Though such attacks in schools and elsewhere remain a small fraction of overall American gun violence, they make an outsize impact. The term “active shooter” is now part of our lexicon, and schoolchildren everywhere take part in frightening defensive drills. School districts arm staff and pour resources into building fortifications and response plans, fueling a multibillion-dollar security industry accessorized with items like “bulletproof” ballistic-plated backpacks for kids. But no credible research has shown that these measures have value beyond the salve of safety theatrics.
Improving gun laws is essential, but the nation’s estimated 400 million firearms are loosely regulated in many states, a status quo unlikely to change soon. What more can we do to end these tragedies? One answer is to shift our focus from active-shooter response to active-shooter prevention.
No single element forecasts violence; it is how they coalesce in each person’s case that threat assessors must evaluate.
Behavioral threat assessment is an emerging method that brings together experts in mental health, law enforcement, education and other fields to intervene with individuals who show signs of planning violence. Extensive case research shows that, contrary to popular myth, mass shooters don’t just suddenly “snap,” nor do they burst forth from extreme social isolation. Mass shooters plan and prepare, and they engage in warning behaviors often noticeable to people around them. Therein lies the opportunity to act.
For the past decade, I’ve studied scores of mass shootings and looked into the work of threat assessment teams, including a range of school and workplace cases where brewing attacks were prevented. The approach relies on specialized training among leaders who are mostly already in place in a school system, company or institution. In every case that I learned about from threat assessment experts and examined in confidential files, the person of concern showed a mix of identifiable warning signs—a set of behaviors and circumstances that suggested potential danger.
The warning signs fall into eight areas:
Entrenched grievances: Shooters often stew over mistreatment or injustices, real or perceived.
Threatening messages: Signs of intent, or “leakage,” can be veiled or direct, noticeable in talk, writing or online posts.
Patterns of aggression: Acts such as domestic violence indicate a capacity to harm and correlate with risk.
Stalking behavior: Fixation and harassment are red flags that were first studied in political assassins and celebrity stalkers.
Emulation. This is the so-called copycat problem; mass shooters often signal that they identify with past attackers.
Personal deterioration: Breakdowns of routine and loss of resilience point to tendencies that can culminate in a murder-suicide.
Triggering events: A major failure in school, work or a relationship can set violence in motion.
Attack preparation: Acquiring a gun, practicing at a range and surveilling a venue are common in the days or weeks before an attack.
The Oxford tragedy was no exception. Afterward, investigators found ample prior evidence of the accused perpetrator’s aberrant behaviors, expressions of despair and angry intent. No single element forecasts violence; it is how they coalesce in each person’s case that threat assessors must evaluate.
The prevention method seeks to manage potential threats with constructive measures rather than punishment, which tends only to delay or even provoke danger. Many mass shooters have been kicked out of school, fired from jobs or served with restraining orders. By treating mental health problems and improving would-be attackers’ educational, employment or living circumstances, the method aims at heading off violence while getting help to people in serious need of aid.
In an era of multiplying and escalating threats, the model’s promise lies partly in its shared responsibility. Planned violence cannot be treated solely as a school or parental problem; it is fundamentally an issue for the wider community.
In 2019 I observed a program run by the Salem-Keizer school district in Oregon, a K-12 system serving 42,000 children. The district’s Student Threat Assessment Team, among the first of its kind, was developed after the Columbine massacre in 1999, in part by using research from the U.S. Secret Service. (After Columbine, experts tapped the study of presidential assassins as a basis for thwarting school shooters.)
The team’s members from the school district and local agencies have evaluated more than 50 cases a year of individual behavior that generates concerns. They make recommendations to smaller teams of administrators and counselors in the district’s 65 schools. The school teams handle most bullying or other garden-variety unwanted behaviors, contacting parents and intervening with education and counseling support. They enlist the specialists’ help when behavior appears more threatening.
Proving results is tricky. Dozens of cases that I learned about—from schools with such programs and a specialized FBI team that assists local communities on request—involved students and others who were found to be in crisis, took steps toward planned violence and in some instances had access to weapons. But how can we know if the interventions prevented an attack?
Forensic psychologist Reid Meloy, a leading expert in the field, favors an analogy to fighting heart disease. Cardiologists, he notes, can’t determine how many of their patients never had heart attacks because of the preventive care they provided. But they can do a lot to mitigate risk: “You try to lower the probability.”
The threat-assessment approach is spreading. Programs are now mandatory for schools in a handful of states, and the method is used at some Fortune 500 companies. The Secret Service publishes case research and offers training; last year 26,000 people participated.
Managing troubled individuals is complex and must be balanced with the need to safeguard their civil liberties and well-being, but behavioral threat assessment is the most promising method now available. In a society where firearms are easy to obtain and mental-health care is lacking, it allows concerned communities to take action in preventing tragedies that have become an all too familiar feature of American life.
Mr. Follman is the national affairs editor at Mother Jones. This essay is adapted from his new book, “Trigger Points: Inside the Mission to Stop Mass Shootings in America,” published by Dey Street Books, an imprint of HarperCollins, which like The Wall Street Journal is owned by NewsCorp.
Appeared in the May 14, 2022, print edition as 'How We Can Prevent School Shootings'.