The Active Shooter
The Active Shooter
Managing Mass Killings in the Land of the Free: No Easy Answers
October 1, 2015, a 26-year-old man armed with 5 handguns and a rifle entered Umpqua Community College in Oregon, where he murdered 9 students before committing suicide. On April 16, 2007, a 23-year-old student at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University in Virginia, went on a shooting spree. Before ending his own life, he killed 27 students and 5 faculty members, and wounded 17 others.
These incidents are tragic examples of a global trend noted by the United Nations: Mass killings are becoming much more common than they once were. This article discusses one aspect of this trendâ??mass shootings in the United States. According to one source, which tracks incidents in which at least four people are shot, including the gunman, the US has averaged more than one mass shooting each day this year.
Frenzied media coverage of many such horrific events triggers fear in the collective American psyche. They remind us that we face a threat often undetectable by traditional meansâ??the murderous "lone wolf" armed with a small arsenal of deadly weapons. Most often a male, the lone wolf can be of any age or race, hold any religious or political conviction, be foreign or homegrown. The lone wolf is sometimes an ideologically-motivated terrorist. All too often, he is simply the kid next door who, for whatever reason, became what the Department of Homeland Security defines as an active shooterâ??an individual actively engaged in killing or attempting to kill people in a confined and populated area.
In the aftermath following these violent incidents, shocked individuals, families, school administrators, law enforcement, and local and government officials are left with more questions than answers. They are left wondering if something fundamental in society is broken.
Some Characteristics of Mass Shooting Incidents
In 2014, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) initiated a study of 160 active-shooter incidents that occurred in the United States from 2000-2013â??events responsible for the deaths of at least 486 individuals and the wounding of more than 537 others. (Blair & Schweit, 2014) These acts of mass violence occurred in schools, churches, movie theatres, factories, office buildings, shopping malls, open commercial areas, and other settings. The FBI study concluded that active-shooter attacks are dynamic events that vary greatly. One sobering finding revealed just how quickly tragic events like these can unfold: 69 percent of the incidents measured ended within five minutes or less.
A 2011 New York City Police Department study, Active Shooter: Recommendations and analysis for risk mitigation, found that perpetrators were overwhelmingly male with a median age of 35. The distribution of ages was bimodal. The first peak included males aged 15-19, the second peak, males aged 35-44. A sample of additional interesting findings included:
- 98 percent of incidents were carried out by a single attacker.
- Active shooters were often members of the communities they targeted.
- Some shooters did little or no planning, while others developed complex strategic plans that included preoperational surveillance.
- A small number of shooters preplanned defenses or took steps to prolong the attacks and to prevent victims from escaping, such as chaining doors closed and blocking entrances and exits.
- Approximately 29 percent of incidents took place in schools, 13 percent in office buildings, 23 percent in open commercial areas, 13 percent in workplace settings, and 22 percent in unspecified locations.
- 36 percent of shooter attacks involved the use of multiple weapons. In one case, a single attacker employed seven weapons, including a rifle, two shotguns, and four handguns.
- Most of the weapons used were legally obtained. In several cases, attackers used firearms stolen from relatives or friends.
- The vast majority of attacks ended violently at the hands of law enforcement, private security, bystanders, or the attackers themselves.
- Roughly 40 percent of active shooters ended the incident by committing suicide.
- Only 14 percent of the incidents studied ended without force.
In a successful rampage shooting, the shooter needs easy access to soft targets (untrained victims), access to the target area or building, the unobstructed ability to move through the target area, and the ability to reload and retain a functioning weapon. In some cases, evidence supports the conclusion that the shooter's target may have been symbolic in natureâ??that exacting revenge on specific people was not the ultimate objective. In these cases, the shooter's goal seemed to be simply making a statement with violence. (Social Science Journal, 2012)
Challenges in Identifying Potential Active Shooters
Identifying who is likely to become an active shooter or predicting who may be intent on carrying out a shooting spree is difficult. In the incidents studied, many shooters were individuals with no prior criminal record who used legally purchased guns to carry out their attacks. As a Department of Defense task force report Predicting Violent Behavior (2012), concluded, "There is no effective formula for predicting violent behavior with any degree of accuracy."
It is also very difficult to prevent the committed shooter from carrying out his or her plans. Why? Because the would-be shooter holds the advantage all criminals have: foreknowledge of the time, place, and method of attack. The attacker knows when, where, and how it will be carried out. Unless others have this information, no one else is likely to know of the attack until is it already underway. This gives the shooter a massive advantage over his or her victims and is one reason why these attacks are often so deadly.
Speculations and Correlations Amidst a Plethora of Firearms
The issue of mass killings is a complex social problem. Opinions, models, and theories abound as researchers seek answers for two key questions:
1. How we can predict and prevent the "lone wolf" from carrying out a deadly shooting spree?
2. Why do some individuals with no prior criminal record suddenly decide to become mass murderers?
Gun ownershipâ??very popular in the United Statesâ??is a right protected by the Second Amendment to the Constitution. It is reasonable to conclude that the ease with which guns can be acquired is a contributing factor to social violence. Yet gun availability is only part of the story. Other likely factors include:
- Bullying and mental illness,
- The copy-cat phenomenon in which others mimic high profile school shootings,
- Poverty, child abuse, and poor parenting,
- Substance abuse and gang activity.
Some speculate that what is happening in our schools reflects what is going on outside themâ??that society has become violent, and since schools are a part of society they reflect that violence. Others argue that many children are taught (directly and indirectly) that violence is an acceptable solution to problems. Some evidence supports a correlation between violent video games and community violence. Grossman and Christensen (2007).
A bipartisan, bicameral congressional conference on this subject was held in 2000. Representatives from the AMA, APA, AAP, and AACAP (doctors, pediatricians, psychologists, and child psychiatrists) jointly reported that over 1,000 studies point overwhelmingly to a causal connection between media violence and aggressive behavior in some children. (Grossman & Christensen, 2007)
A Call to Action
A key component of effective community policing is forming partnerships between involved stakeholders willing to share information, problem-solving strategies, and ongoing training. (Department of Justice, 2013) In addition to cooperation between these stakeholders, many advocate use of a multi-disciplinary threat-management approach that includes creating avenues for networking and legally sharing information across disciplines, just as we track terrorists. This network would stretch from students, schools, churches, employers, and civic leaders to local, state, and federal authoritiesâ??everyone focused on sharing information that could help prevent incidents of mass targeted violence. (Report on the national summit on empowering communities to prevent violent extremism, 2015) Other actionable suggestions include:
- Identify and adapt "best practices" for identification of potential threats, notification protocols, evaluation strategies, and pre-incident interventions.
- Develop public service campaigns that encourage identification of potential threats. Begin a cultural shift toward acceptability of reporting. Employ technology to facilitate anonymous reporting. Develop smartphone apps that allow reporting of suspicious activity to law enforcement and that could alert students, co-workers, and the public of threatening conditions (similar to an Amber Alert.)
- Enact legislation to limit the liability of those who report potentially violent behavior.
- Provide training in how to respond to active-shooter situations to minimize casualties.
- Make use of trigger locks and biometric sensors to limit who can fire a weapon.
Potential shooters sometimes display indicators of murderous intent before actually committing a crime. The US Secret Service urges students, parents, and teachers to exercise vigilance and, when appropriate, to take steps to intervene and report suspicious information. To prevent a mass shooting, citizens must be able to recognize problematic behavior, interpret that behavior as a possible threat, and take responsibility for some sort of intervention that might interrupt a possible event. This intervention could be a simple anonymous phone call to an authority.
Personal involvement requires overcoming the bystander effectâ??the tendency of individuals not to act in an emergency situationâ??and a cultural shift toward sharing responsibility for public safety, understanding that reporting abnormal behavior is a civic responsibility. Averting mass violence is a community-wide concern and thus requires a community-wide effort. Admittedly, fear of personal liability or retribution presents formidable obstacles to stepping forward with information.
Lt. Dave Grossman and Loren Christensen (Warrior Science Group), in Preventing Violence in Our Schools, advocate placing an armed police officer in each school to serve as a deterrent. They point out that those who commit these mass acts of violence seldom target locations where people are stationed who are willing and able to shoot back. Additional suggestions include:
- Every school district needs to have active shooter contingency and lock-down plans and practice them regularly (similar to fire drills.)
- Random placement (without notice) of metal detectors at school bus stops, parking lots, lunch rooms, gyms, assembly halls, and building entries and exits.
- Emergency preparation and rehearsal is also necessary for other potential target sites such as hospitals, shopping malls, sporting events, churches, and various employers.
Although nearly 50 percent of US citizens feel gun laws should be made stricter, roughly 75 percent are against banning gun ownership. (www.gallup.com) With little prospect of effective gun control on the horizon, the US is likely to manage the problem better with strategies now used to approach homegrown terrorism such as those described in this article. Example: One current trend seems to be focused on target hardeningâ??making schools and other potential target buildings more difficult to enter and attack.
To improve the safety and security of the nation's communities, academic institutions, workplaces, public venues, places of worship, and recreational areas, a shift in the national mindset is required, from one of reaction after tragedies to one of sustained capacity-building for prevention. In order to manage the problem of mass killing in the United States more effectively, we will need a willingness to research the potential causes of mass violence and the courage to act on evidence-based findings.
Blair, P., Schweit, K. (2014). A study of active shooter incidents in the United States between 2000-2013. Texas State University in Federal Bureau of investigation, US Department of Justice, Washington DC.
Borum, R., Cornell, D., Modzeleski, W., Jimerson, S. (2010). What can be done about school shootings? A review of the evidence. Mental Health Law and Policy Faculty Publications. Paper 534.
Drysdale, D., Modzeleski, W., & Simons, A. (2010). Campus attacks: Targeted violence affecting institutions of higher education. United States Secret Service, U.S. Department of Homeland Security, Office of Safe and Drug-Free Schools, U.S. Department of Education, and Federal Bureau of Investigation, U.S. Department of Justice, Washington, D.C.
Grossman, D., Christensen, L. (2008). On combat: The psychology and physiology of deadly conflict in war and peace. Warrior Science Publications.
Kelly, R. (2011). Active Shooter: Recommendations and analysis for risk mitigation. Police Commissioner, New York City Police Department.
Paparazzo, J., Eith, C., & Tocco, J. (2013). Strategic approaches to preventing multiple casualty violence: Report on the national summit on multiple casualty shootings. Washington, DC, U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Community Oriented Policing Services.
Rocque, M. (2012). Exploring school rampage shootings: Research, theory, and policy. The Social Science Journal (49)304-313.
Scientific American. (October 2, 2015, www.scientificamerican.com.
Weine, Stevan, & Braniff (2015). Report on the national summit on empowering communities to prevent violent extremism. Washington, D.C. Office of Community Oriented Policing Services.
All Public Comments
© 2013-2017 TechCast Global Inc Printed By: Dec 10, 2018 For personal use only