Friday, February 23, 2018

There's no one magic solution to mass shootings

I haven't been as productive with work as I should have been this week. My job requires me to spend time on social media and it seemed like each time I was on Facebook or Twitter, I'd get sidetracked reading posts, watching videos, reading articles related to the recent school shooting in Florida. I've been reading and listening to views and opinions on the topic. And there are two big things being blamed for the incident (in addition to the individual who pulled the trigger) - lack of gun control and lack of mental health care. Both probably contributed. Another factor that has been mentioned in mass shootings is the media attention that the killers receive - and crave. And while I agree that less coverage of the shooter is better, I took some time to go and look up those responsible for the Parkland, Florida shooting and many of the other most deadly mass shootings in recent years to see what kinds of similarities there are between them. I compiled a list of 15 shootings and shooters. All have been male. Most committed suicide following the killings. Many, but not all were white. Ages varied. Locations varied. Motives varied. Types of guns varied. Below is a list of those 15 shootings, in descending chronological order, including where they occurred, how many were killed, the year of the incident, the race and age of the shooter and if they died or were arrested after the shooting.

Parkland, Florida school shooting (17 died) - 2018, shooter was white male, age 19, arrested

Sutherland Spring, Texas church shooting (25 died) - 2017, shooter was white male, age 26, suicide

Las Vegas concert shooting (58 died) - 2017, shooter was white male, age 64, suicide

Orlando night club (49 died) - 2016, shooter was Afghani-American male, age 26, shot and killed by police

Sandy Hook (27 died) - 2012, shooter was white male, age 20, suicide

Aurora, Colorado (12 died) - 2012, shooter was white male, age 24, arrested and serving life in prison

Virginia Tech shooting (32 died) - 2007, shooter was Korean-American, age 23, suicide

Red Lake High School (9 died) - 2005, shooter was Native American, age 16, suicide

Columbine High School (13 died) - 1999, shooters were white males, age 17 and 18, suicide

Kileen Texas Luby's Cafeteria (23 died) - 1991, shooter was white male, age 35, suicide

General Motors Jacksonville, FL (9 died) - 1990, shooter was black male, age 42, suicide

Oklahoma postal office (14 died) - 1986 shooter was white male, age 44, suicide

San Ysidro, California McDonald's (21 died) - 1984 shooter was white male, age 41, shot and killed by police

University of Texas (18 died) - 1966, shooter was white male, age 25, shot and killed by police

Camden, NJ (13 died) - 1949, shooter was white male, age 28, died at age 88 in mental institution

This isn't a full list. Not even close. A "mass shooting" is defined by a shooting resulting in at least 4 victims. 146 have been recorded in the past four decades. The average number of victims is 8.

A listing of the 20 most deadly mass shootings actually lists 23 as there are some shootings with the same number of deaths. Some of the things about the shootings surprised me. Other things were expected.

From those I looked at the earliest was a World War II veteran, age 28 in 1949 who walked through his neighborhood shooting those he saw. He killed 13. At least two other mass shooters were military veterans. It was a long time before the next mass shooting resulting in at least 10 deaths. It happened in 1966 - 17 years later. There was then a lull of 16 years before there was another mass shooting of that magnitude.

Many people believe that Columbine was the start of mass shootings, but there were a significant amount of mass shootings in the 80s and early 90s. They did, however, happen mostly in places that were not schools.

24 died in a mass shooting in Texas in 1991.

22 people were killed at a McDonald's in 1984.
A post office shooting in 1986 resulted in 15 deaths and common use of the term "going postal" in reference to someone going on a deranged rampage.
A 1982 shooting in Pennsylvania had several shooting victims, including 5 of the shooter's own children. A total of 13 died.
10 died in a 1990 shooting at a GMAC office after the shooter's car was repossessed.
In 1990 and 1991 there were mass shootings where 9 people died. In 1982, 1989 and 1993 there were shootings with 8 deaths.

The decade from 1982 to 1991 was a very deadly one in terms of mass shootings. Then it was quieter for several years - or at least mass shootings did not occur with as great of death tolls. Until 1999. That's when Columbine happened and 15 people died, followed by an Atlanta shooting a couple months later where 10 people died.

Then it was quieter for nearly a decade. Until 2007's Virginia Tech shooting. Then in 2009 11 died in a mass shooting in Alabama, a Fort Hood shooting resulted in 13 deaths and 14 died in a mass shooting in New York.

All of the incidents above rank a s some of the highest in death tolls. However, other shootings happened with far more shooting victims, but ones who fortunately survived their gunshot wounds. One that sticks out for me occurred in 2008. I remember it well because it happened close to home at my sister's alma matter, Northern Illinois University. It, like the recent Florida shooting, happened on Valentine's Day with five people killed and 17 more injured.

After a couple quiet years, we moved into the deadliest period for mass shootings.

9 killed on a college campus in 2015
12 dead in the Aurora theatre shooting in 2012
12 dead in 2013 at Navy Yard.
14 were killed in a shooting by a California couple in 2015
17 just died in the Parkland, Florida shooting
Last year 26 died in a church shooting
27 died at Sandy Hook in 2012
49 died in the Orlando night club shooting in 2016
58 died just a few months ago in the Las Vegas concert shooting

You can look at the numbers so many different ways. And numbers are numbers. You see similarities. You see things that make you why so many happened within a certain time frame and then several years went by without large mass shootings.

When you dig deeper and read about the victims it becomes so much more personal and heartbreaking.

Some observations in looking closely at these mass shootings:

Of the 23 deadliest shootings, two of them were executed by a male/female duo. The others were carried out by a single person - a male shooter.
While many were white, there were also shooters that were Asian, Middle Eastern, African-American and Native American. Interestingly, I didn't notice any Hispanic shooters in those with the highest death tolls.
In the vast majority of cases, the shooter committed suicide in the end. A few others showed aggression or did not comply with police commands and were shot and killed by police
Of the 14 deadliest mass shootings since 2000, 6 of them occurred in schools - 2 in colleges, 3 in high schools, 1 in an elementary school. Schools are becoming bigger targets. While mass shootings have happened in a variety of public places, including churches, restaurants, workplaces, post offices and theaters, schools are becoming targets more often.
Ages of the shooters in the most deadly shootings have ranged in age from 16 to 64. While several of the mass shooters in the 80s/90s were males in their 30s and 40s, the shooters of the 2000s, with the exception of the Las Vegas shooter at age 64, have been primarily between 16 and 26. The shooters are getting younger.
A variety of guns have been used in the shootings. From the 20 deadliest shootings, some have used handguns. Others have used multiple weapons. Others have used a semi-automatic rifle. Others have used multiple semi-automatic weapons. 8 of 23 used one or more handguns. 7 used multiple weapons and it does not specify if all weapons were guns. One used a shotgun and handgun. 5 are listed as a semi-automatic weapon. 2 are listed as having multiple semi-automatic weapons (one had two shooters). Six of the ten deadliest mass shootings involved semi-automatic weapons. Four of the five deadliest involved semi-automatic weapons. The two deadliest involved semi-automatic weapons and happened in the past two years.

I didn't dig back into all 146 mass shootings. I also didn't look at how many total were shot in these incidents that included survivors. I also did not find how the weapons were attained, but several show accompanying reports as being guns that were purchased legally.

Looking at some of the trends in the shootings and at the most recent shooting, some of the actions that could be taken that may have been preventative in these situations are:

- A ban on semi-automatic would still leave a variety of deadly guns available on the market. 16 of the deadliest shootings of 23 did not involve semi-automatic weapons. These are shootings that occurred with less potentially-lethal guns although the death toll may have been smaller due to decreased firing power or ammunition availability.
- A license required for purchasing a gun. The license could have stipulations as to a requirement of a safety course, a waiting period before a gun can be in possession following a purchase, a background check for criminal activity, a background check for mental diagnosis (if HIPPA laws allow), a possible pharmacy data base check if one could be available (if HIPPA laws would allow) of individuals on anti-psychotic medications, a licensing fee that would go toward mental health treatment/school mental health programs/victims' funds.
- A limit of guns that can be purchased by a single licensee
- A raise in minimum age for purchase, possession, conceal carry to 21 or older
- Addition of metal detectors at schools
- National guard personnel assigned to secure school entrances
- Increased security systems in place in schools
- A system of renewal once licensing has been put in place with background checks duplicated at yearly or more often intervals
-  Keeping gun laws as they are but put regulations on ammunition, limits of how much can be obtained, attach fees that make the ammunition cost-prohibitive and use those funds for education, treatment, victims fund
- More thorough contact with students at risk of potentially violent scenarios from school officials

As far as what could have been done to possibly prevent the latest school shooting:

Nearly all shootings are done by males. This is not preventable.

Many of the shootings were done by white males. This is not preventable.

Several recent shootings have been done by teens and those in the early 20s age group. Age is not preventable. However, access to weapons at his age is something that could have been a factor in altering the outcome.

Some classmates are saying that they noticed odd behavior that could have been warning signs of future danger to the public and some reported it. Such reports can't justify arresting or detaining an individual long term. You can have a gut feeling, you may have heard second hand about threats or violent behavior, but law enforcement is very limited on what they can do even with such reports. Further intervention could have been sought by professionals within the school system and family that may have resulted in successful treatment.

He met requirements for purchasing a gun as far as age and background checks. Future restrictions could be placed on age. In some states, guns can be purchased at 18 and in some states they must be 21. Currently, individuals cannot purchase or consume alcohol before age 21. Individuals can not rent a hotel room in many places under the age of 21. Minimum age for car rental is 21 and for some companies, 25. To supervise a driver with a permit, you have to be 21. There is still a state where you cannot get married under age 21 without parental consent and there is a 3-day waiting period for a license in addition. Revising age requirements is a possibility and it would not be something completely new and unusual. The minimum age of 21 for drinking has stood for many years. Restricting gun purchases to those 21 and over is not impossible.

He may have actually had some firearms training at the school where the shooting occurred. According to classmates, the shooter had bee part of a JROTC program that involved shooting weapons (it wass also reported that he was removed from the program.) The program obviously has standards that he was not meeting to be removed. Maybe something could have been seen at that time that would have caused him to not be accepted into that program.

He owned multiple guns. He had been staying with a family that would not allow him to have guns on the property unless they were locked in a gun safe. The owner of the property thought he had the only key to the gun safe.

The shooter's mental health is in question and hints of violent tendencies may have been noticed many years ago. Further care could have been sought. Even with a diagnosis, permanent mental health facilities are virtually non-existent. Mental institutions as a whole ceased to exist in the 1980s, at least partially connected to the cuts in funding for mental health facilities at that time. That means that outpatient treatment and integration into society is the norm for those exhibiting mental health struggles. Admittance to mental health departments in hospitals is short term. Involuntary admission happens when the person delivers threats and thus, showing they are a danger to themselves and/or others.

The shooter was adopted and I have not found any reports related to his birth parents. Risk for several mental illnesses increases when a family member has a disorder. Long term issues such as depression,  learning disabilities and behavior disorders can result from babies being born addicted to drugs. Information related to birth parents that could have put him more at risk for certain behaviors if revealed could have led to therapies that could have lessened the effects.

Also possible contributing factors or motivations could have been rage caused by expulsion and a desire for revenge on school officials, the recent death of his mother, the uncertainty following her death and disruption to his life. He did have individuals who took him in and attempted to help him. The support may have delayed his inevitable intentions to do harm.

Mental illness has become a big argument/issue as a likely cause. As a country there's a lot to look at. Some of the changes that are being proposed would need to be adjusted at the state level. One possible cause of the buildup to this shooting could have been isolation, exclusion and bullying. Yet there are demands that people like him should be locked up if he had been deemed to have had mental illness and a call to remove anyone with a mental illness from society. Not all who have mental illness shoot people and not all who shoot have a diagnosed mental illness. We've learned from past history about the perils of witch hunts and removing people from society and into facilities to separate them - in inhumane mental institutions, POW detention facilities for Germans and Japanese in the US during WWII, even concentration camps. Locking up those with suspected mental illness or possible dangerous tendencies without diagnosis, proof or a pattern of violent behavior would be regressing as a society.

I also find it interesting that in the majority of mass shootings, the shooter either commits suicide (and plans to do as much damage as he can in the process) or is intentionally killed via police officer, but that this shooter did not attempt suicide or exhibit behavior toward law enforcement that resulted in his death. He carried out a mass shooting, but his death did not result from the situation.

There's a lot of discussion going on. Perhaps at the very least, there can be a temporary sales halt of semi-automatic weapons for say 60 days while politicians and school officials and society in general figures out better ways to keep kids safe. While metal detectors are unsightly, inconvenient and can give a feeling of unease rather than safety, it's a one-time expense that can help ensure that weapons don't get into schools. Kids that show red flags can be monitored more often, checked in on by social workers, school psychologists and staff as a whole can be made aware of who needs more attention. It may be a huge undertaking require more staff and funding.

Guns aren't part of my life. I can only recall 3 times in my life that I've seen a gun a real life. One occurred as a teenager when I was babysitting a toddler and when I leaned onto a pillow found a gun beneath it. It stopped me in my tracks and really freaked me out. Another time was about 8 years ago when I was stopped at a red light on the way to pick up my son from preschool. I watched as a man entered the minivan in front of me from the passenger side. The driver got out and the carjacker started to drive away. It turned out he had just robbed a bank down the street and was on foot and trying to get away. Before he could leave, he was surrounded by police cars and officers came rushing up, a couple of them with long rifles. The window on the minivan was down and an officer put his gun in the window pointing the gun downward toward the floor and directing him to get out of the vehicle. He didn't get out and they didn't shoot. He hit the gas, rammed police cars out of the way, sped through an intersection and lost control and crashed into a garage a couple blocks away and soon the car and garage were engulfed in flames. The third time was outside Wrigley Field last season - which by the way just added metal detectors in 2016 - after a game. An officer holding a large rifle stood at the corner of Clark and Addison. I thought it was a fluke and maybe in response to some large protests that had been taking place or someone important in the area (there happened to be a long line of black limos and SUVs with government plates going through the neighborhood) or to recent incidents of crime. But the next time I attended a game at Wrigley Field at the end of the season, he was there again. It was unnerving and incredibly sad that it's the new normal when you go to a baseball game.

The deadliest shootings have two things in common - males and guns. Those are the two things that are most important to look at. What is it that is causing males - particularly young white males to snap? Or what is causing so many of those who feel so desperate and in so much despair that they want to end their life to take out so many others with them? What can we do differently in how we raise them, treat them, educate them, love them to yield a different outcome? And guns will always be part of our existence. They aren't going anywhere either. But we do have a choice to create guidelines on who can possess them and what type and how many they can possess - or at least we have a choice to urge our lawmakers to make the choice we desire. Our government decided not long ago to phase out certain light bulbs. Not everyone was happy about it, but it happened. And 60-watt incandescent light bulbs are no more.

Only time will tell what kind of action comes about after this most recent shooting. But I don't see this one going away without action of some kind.

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