Clint Van Zandt Special on The Free Lance Star
The tsunami of gun violence in America did not happen overnight and will not be corrected overnight. Bold measures like repealing the Second Amendment are not within reach. That would require a two-thirds majority in both houses of Congress, followed by ratification by three-fourths of the states.
So what can we do to reduce incidents of gun violence, especially in our schools?
Here are 10 steps we can consider now that could help move our country in a safer direction. Many have additional suggestions.
- Raise the national age to purchase a firearm or ammunition to 21.
Consider gun violence a public health/mental health issue and develop responses to address this significant challenge in America. (One study found that guns kill about as many people each year as sepsis, a life-threatening response to infection, but funding for gun violence research was about 0.7% of that for sepsis.)
Teach children in elementary school verbal (nonviolent) conflict resolution skills as we work to reduce the impact of violent films, television shows, music and video games that serve to numb an individual’s view of the value of human life.
Require a gun safety course for every firearm buyer.
Limit firearm purchases to one per month with a 30-day waiting period to obtain the weapon.
Implement red flag laws nationwide. This allows someone to be flagged as requiring an additional background check before acquiring a firearm, or, if determined to pose a significant threat to themselves or others, have firearms withheld by the court or other person or entity until the person no longer considered a threat. (According to a New York Times study, in 57% of the shootings studied, the shooter had made a specific threat or was known to be potentially suicidal prior to the attack.)
Elect prosecutors and judges who enforce applicable laws related to gun crime and violent crime, who incarcerate such offenders and deny violent repeat offenders the opportunity to re-offend.
Require a minimum sentence of five years for any firearms-related crime in addition to the penalty for the crime itself.
Require a deeper, so-called “comprehensive” background check for every firearm buyer, noting that younger buyers are unlikely to have as criminal records as their juvenile delinquency records may not be available on a routine check.
Consider the use of armed security officers in all schools, but note that there are approximately one million law enforcement officers in America and K-12 schools could house a significant percentage of those officers currently available, as well as our 6,000 colleges and universities.
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It’s also true that we all need to become more aware of possible threats and “if we see something, say something”.
While there is no standard profile for a school gunman or mass murderer, there are many warning signs and trigger issues. These include:
Threatening social media posts
Inappropriate photos of a person with a gun
Statements about harming yourself or harming others
Expression of hopelessness and helplessness
Schoolwork or comments to others regarding potential violence
Clues provided by a person’s “psychological leakage” about problems they are having and things they could do.
Many shooters plan their murderous activities days to months in advance, and most would-be school shooters, especially the young ones, can only hide their plans from those of us who aren’t looking.
For America’s 131,000 K-12 schools, identifying a potential vulnerable shooter is particularly difficult right now.
Due to the devastating impact of our recent pandemic on education and socialization, school administrators are reporting a significant increase in students suffering from anxiety and depression, struggling to manage emotions and displaying low self-esteem, all of which could contribute to a school’s negative actions – Shooter to be.
And while there is no perfect litmus test to accurately identify such a challenged person, we need to get better at checking the warning signs to try and keep a firearm out of someone’s hands on the worst day of their lives.
What choice do we have but try harder?
Clint Van Zandt served 25 years with the FBI, where he served as a supervisor in the FBI’s internationally renowned Behavioral Research Division. He was also the FBI’s chief hostage negotiator and directed the FBI’s Major Case/Crisis Management Program.