I really, really want to believe a mass shooting can’t happen in our sweet small town… but I know it can. Incomprehensibly, we are averaging more than one mass shooting per day. There are so many mass shootings in America that most don’t even make the headlines anymore.
Our 20 year debate over gun control has been fruitless and divisive. Other countries, which have just as many guns per capita as we do, do not have the mass shootings. This is a uniquely American illness. Do I think teenagers should have access to AR-15’s? Absolutely not. But a gun collector does not make a mass shooter. This is because at the center of every mass murder is person in total despair. Mass shooters are not sociopaths, they aren’t Ted Bundy‘s or Charles Manson‘s, they are broken, angry people. It is a popular myth that mass shooters are “psychotic” or severely mentally ill. In fact, on average, less than 10% have a diagnosable psychotic disorder (Sandy Hook Advisory Commission Report). The vast majority of mass shooters are extremely depressed, lonely, in crisis and seeking attention. The catalyst is unaddressed pain and social rejection, not psychopathy.
Mass shooters don’t just snap, it’s a slow deterioration. Most often, it starts with childhood trauma such as violence in the home, sexual abuse, the death of a parent, parental incarceration, severe neglect or being the victim of severe bullying. Mass shooters are almost always suicidal before they are homicidal. They don’t expect to live, and they always give off signs. There are always red flags such as self harm (cutting), passive threats of violence online called “leakage”, suicidal thinking, substance abuse, a drastic change in appearance, excessive time on social media, increased agitation or more withdrawn, a fascination with past mass shootings (especially Columbine), extremist ideologies and seething hatred, or a newfound obsession with weapons (for a full list of common warning signs go to our website).
It is critical that every American learn the warning signs of a person on the pathway to violence and what to do with that information. This needs to be common knowledge. Fail to report a sign and we miss an opportunity to thwart an attack. And we need to change the narrative. The message to the potential shooter needs to be that they will get support, not punishment. Numerous mass shootings have taken place shortly after the person was fired from their job or expelled from school.
The FBI and the Secret Service recommend the “threat assessment” process as the best practice for preventing mass shootings. Threat assessments are multidisciplinary, multi-agency teams that look at the big picture to bring all the little pieces of concerning information together for a more complete picture. They know to ask, “Why is Johnny writing about death in English class?” “Why is he cutting his face?” “Why is he skipping school so often… is he being bullied?” “Why is he joking about shooting people?” Threat assessment professionals are trained to bring seemingly insignificant pieces of information together to conduct a thorough threat assessment, determine the level and severity of risk, and make a comprehensive treatment plan. They know the difference between teen angst and a ticking timebomb. The threat assessment process has been known to thwart hundreds of mass shootings. Why isn’t this being federally funded and federally mandated nationwide?
We need a radically different approach to ending mass shootings. We need an army of specially trained mental health professionals to identify these broken people early, before they are too far gone. To accomplish this, I believe we need a Crisis Corps: a national, centralized, standardized program created for the sole purpose of preventing mass shootings. Every community member should have ONE phone number – a Crisis Corps Hotline – that they can call when they suspect someone is in crisis or on a pathway to violence. I believe there should be a Crisis Corps Center accessible to every school district and every law enforcement agency to report school threats or threats in the workplace — to bring all the little pieces of concerning information to one table — one table where crisis intervention specialists connect the dots and get that person help immediately.
We can’t expect each individual school district and law-enforcement agency to fix this problem. It’s too big. It’s too complex. The resources aren’t there. Every Crisis Corps Center would have a Threat Assessment Coordinator, a licensed therapist, case managers and peer support specialists to help a disturbed individual address their grievances, express their anger in a safe place, get mental health treatment and get intensive wrap-around care for the entire family, because so often, a child in crisis comes from a family in crisis.
Where will the money come from? Well, we’ve spent trillions of dollars on Covid; we spend 50 billion dollars in foreign aid every year; we spend 23 billion on NASA every year, I think we can find a few billion to protect our school children from being murdered. If we can afford a Peace Corps, AmeriCorps and Headstart Programs, we can afford a Crisis Corps. If you would like to support this effort, you can do several things:
- Attend our FREE Prevent Mass Shootings Now “The Signs Are There” Webinar on June 22nd from 5:30pm-7:00pm to learn the warning signs, risk factors and prevention strategies. This seminar is highly recommended for parents, school district personnel and law-enforcement officers. To register, go to our website at www.preventmassshootingsnow.org
- Donate on the website or send a check to: Prevent Mass Shootings Now, P.O. BOX 1716, Sisters, OR 97759. Any amounts helps!
- To volunteer, contact [email protected]
Until we can build a better threat assessment network, make sure to report any warning signs or threats – even make as a joke – to your school or local law enforcement. Together, as a community, as a nation, we can make this the first and last generation of mass shooters. We can stop this madness!