In August of 1966, Charles Whitman climbed to the top of a University of Texas bell tower and systematically shot and killed 16 people, injuring an additional 31. Since then – to date – there have been an additional 146 mass shootings in the United States (generally defined as including four or more deaths). Most of those shootings directly led to heated debate as to finding a “solution to the problem.” From w1982 to 2011, these incidents occurred roughly once every 200 days. From 2011 to 2014, that rate increased to roughly once every 64 days. Clearly, a solution has not been found. Part if not all of the problem lies in the debate itself. Obviously a heated and emotional topic to begin with, when the political component is added the heels just spin with no real traction achieved.
The political argument centers largely on gun control. That is a circle seemingly with no end as it has no clear base from which to begin. Because it isn’t a matter of “banning all guns” (although that view does exist) conversation quickly branches in several directions. Do you restrict or ban? What guns should or should not be included? What ammo? What about restrictions on the purchaser? The list goes on and as it grows, so does the rhetoric from all sides. And if people can’t even agree on the argument, it follows that no agreement is near on a solution.
This is not to say that gun control should or should not be addressed. But if those discussions have no imminent end, shouldn’t we try to find something else, if for no other reason than to provide a “stop gap” while the political and social debate continues? For now, at least, the stronger (and more practical) argument seems to lean towards providing tighter and more strictly enforced security measures at the locations where these shootings tend to occur (schools, public events, etc). To be sure, not every venue can be completely secured nor every contingency planned for. The Las Vegas shooting, for example, was a result of a large outdoor venue immediately adjacent to publically accessed high rise buildings. In hindsight, steps obviously could and should have been taken to prevent the incident, but the circumstances surrounding that event appear to be somewhat unique.
Most of the other incidents involve locations which, to a degree, can be secured or at the very least have access limited. In the Parkland, Florida school shooting, several warning signs regarding the shooter were inexplicably ignored. Among them was, per news reports, an admonition to staff to not allow that student, who had been expelled, on campus “with a backpack.” Ignoring for the moment the fact that in that case, maybe he shouldn’t have been allowed on at all, the statement seemingly had no teeth. Assuming that he did not jump any fences to get on campus, one must assume that no such measures were there to begin with. A locked fence (open at the start and end of each school day) may very well have prevented that shooting, along with other school shootings where the suspect was not a current student already on campus. As for incidents in which a current student brought a weapon or weapons onto campus, screening methods (metal detectors, etc) can be put in place. Such methods are already in place but are primarily limited to the inner city and / or schools having high crime or gang activity. Dogs can also be used to sniff for weapons or other devices.
Similar measures can also be used at major public events (concerts, sporting events, festivals, etc). While it may not be feasible to completely “fence” in a sports or festival location, points of entry can and should be limited and controlled. Screening, including but not limited to metal detectors, should be mandatory. To a large extent these measures are currently in place at a majority of venues. The problem then becomes applying or using them efficiently or, more to the point, properly. The setting (“sensitivity”) of many metal detectors is anything but uniform and often times lax. What gets you stopped at one location often goes undetected at another. Where one security person, in checking your bag or backpack, may spend several moments checking “every nook and cranny,” another may give the same bag a passing glance. Many of these variances are due to inconsistent or minimal training. Often times it may involve the hiring of minimally qualified personnel with minimum compensation. Minimum standards should be developed in the training and use of such measures.
Finally, there often seems to be the “convenience“ factor. In other words, once the “line gets long” the security often slackens for fear of upsetting the paying customer (or the faculty if classes are delayed). But the education of those doing the screening needs to include those being screened as well. If a patron misses the first inning of the game or the first two songs of the concert because of the line, well then maybe they should be educated to show up a little earlier. Along thesame lines, this matter of “convenience” is too often masked by claims of a “violation of rights” or “invasion of privacy.” That argument is baseless. This is not to say that such concerns should be completely ignored, but rather put into the proper perspective. Should authorities be allowed to randomly search your house without probable cause or detain you on the street without reasonable suspicion? Of course not. But voluntary entry into a public (or private) venue is another matter. And the delay that any related security involves should be a small price to pay for protecting ourselves from those who would maliciously and intentionally do us harm.
There will always be a balance (and cost) betweenwhat we want and what we must accept. Gaining acceptance should never be ignored, but nor should it be a blind to what is required in today’s world. The gun argument, in the end, may very well be the last, best answer. But waiting for that debate to resolve itself should not handcuff efforts to find other directions as well. And perhaps most importantly, we should at the very least diverse ourselves from the term “solution” as that phrase leads to a hope for a final, complete “end” to the problem. We must accept that these circumstances have no such complete answer. Law enforcement says that alarms for your house or car are highly recommended and effective, but if someone wants to break in badly enough, they will. Sadly, the same is exponentially true for those who would do us harm.
“How is a mass shooting defined?” Chris Nichols Politico.com Oct 24th 2017
Mass shooting database FBI.gov Feb 2014
“The terrible numbers that grow with each mass shooting” Denise Lu Washington Post May 18, 2018
“Cranston eyeing school security ideas” Unattributed U.S. News Feb 24, 2018
“Drop Goofy Security Ideas” Lauren Ritchie Orlando Sentinal May 22, 2018