Monday, September 2, 2019

OPINION: The Problem With The Questions We Ask After Every Active Shooter Incident

Another active shooter and I feel like I'm having the same discussions over and over again. Oh, that's right - because I am. In the course of each shooting, a variety of reactions happen. Some of them are helpful to constructive discourse and some are not. Let's list some of my least favorite reactions and why:
  • "We need to do something, now!" Ugh. I hate "something" for a few reasons. First, "something" is rarely anything specific and is merely a reaction to the status quo. As a security professional who works at mitigating these kinds of threats, I often feel like "something" means "anything" which works contrary to mitigation which does protect us. Finally, "something" is often a veiled attempt at prompting to discuss political solutions which are normally, not multi-pronged nor appreciative or comprehensive of the entirety of the threat. In other words, "something" is almost certainly, a "nothing"-burger.
  • "Why can't we do what XYZ European country does with guns?" Well, for one, we're not XYZ and while they may have had a problem with gun violence, their causality is likely different than ours. XYZ also does not have our proliferation problem. Guns in the United States are everywhere and the means to manufacture and supply them is not difficult. The science to make firearms and their ammunition is not difficult nor is it restricted. We banned machine guns and someone made "bump guns". Our supply chain with guns is likely different than XYZ as well. In XYZ, the government had a monopoly on firearms but in the US, the citizenry has a monopoly on firearms with zero demand diminished.
  • "It's so simple to solve this." Nope. Not quite as simple as you think. First, taking care of the tool does NOTHING to fix what drives people to murder. In fact, the demand for the tool will likely increase. You won't like where mass murderers go for alternatives either. Also, see what I said about proliferation in #2. Legislating your way out of this gets even tougher because America isn't as monolithic as people on social media would like us to believe which means the political landscape in this country is also more diverse and obfuscated than we appreciate.

    This thinking also blinds us to unintended, collateral damage. For example, modern gun control was done as a means to restrict gun possession by extremist groups. As the laws took shape, over the decades, these laws were meant to further limit access to firearms by convicted felons who may have been involved in ongoing criminal behavior. Their access to firearms would only mean further violence. With crime becoming sensationalized as an "epidemic" almost daily by the media and politicians, a "war on crime" was waged and more laws and police officers were ordered to the streets. These laws incentivized police departments to make more contacts with potential criminals or those who they suspected were criminals. How? Every good war needs soldiers and you can't recruit soldiers without a war. More contacts with an armed public meant lower crime rates. It also meant more police officers involved in more contacts. The problem isn't that contacts were happening but they were disproportionately happening with demographics who were often under-represented and owned far less guns than the majority demographic. I don't have to tell you the rest, do I?
  • "Why won't they release the shooter's name?" Glad you asked. It could be for a few really good reasons.
    • The investigation is still ongoing and releasing the name too soon could reveal a great deal to potential co-conspirators.
    • The shooter may belong to a demographic who could suffer collateral damage from vigilantes seeking revenge in a hostile socioeconomic climate.
    • They're following established FBI and scholarly recommendations to not give the shooter any undue notoriety. Why? The police could be concerned about copycats and the potential for harmful distractions to their case.
        • "The hallmark of contagion is seeing events unusually bunched together in time. The details of our analysis, where we fit a mathematical model of contagion to the data to quantify the level of contagion, are quite technical. But really, what it essentially amounts to is seeing if there are unusual groupings of events. In mass killings (four or more people killed), where the tragedies usually get national or international media attention, we saw significant evidence of this kind of unusual bunching. In mass shootings — with less than four people killed, but at least three people shot — we didn't see any evidence of unusual bunching. Interestingly, those events are so common in the U.S., happening once every few days, that they don't even make it past the local news. Because we saw evidence of contagion in high-profile events, and no evidence of contagion in events that mostly just got local news, we hypothesize that media attention may be the driver of the patterns we see. This kind of contagion has been suspected for a long time; our study is the first to quantify it."  
      Various pictures of Christchurch shooter's firearms used in shooting

      • The contagion theory looks especially prescient when we look at the Christchurch shooting where the shooter wrote the names of various other shooters on his weapons he used during the shooting and wrote in his manifesto how they motivated him. How many shooters have mentioned or idolized other mass shooters? How many shooters are glorified and celebrated on various forums where they congregate? Don't we see the same with terrorist groups like ISIS? How many "soldiers of the Islamic State" were "inspired" by the acts of other "soldiers"? I'm not saying these events were caused by other shooters going first but for many shooters, I'm certain it showed how it could be done with minimal effort and little exposure during the planning and execution phase. As I always caution, "the secret sauce is out in the wild."

        What about our own history with a public mob mentality towards "give us a name"?

          A man lynched from a tree. (Library of Congress; 1925)
The simple and painful truth is we may never see the end of mass violence in the United States. That doesn't mean workable and viable solutions are not probable. I believe they are. However; as we examine these events, perhaps it's time we ask how much of our reactions have done less to mitigate these threats and do more to provide us "security". The latter is about addressing what makes us "feel" safe versus doing what protect us by critically going over the data, having constructive discourse within the subject matter experts, and determining what are our most viable, sustainable, and effective solutions.

There is one question we should be asking but we don't. Its absence from  the discourse makes me believe we care less about the victims of these crimes and more about the political solutions we can employ. Few people are asking "why" because they confuse methodology with motive. The problem shouldn't be how these murders are committed but why. Until we ask that question, we'll continue to have discourse which does little except provide cover for murderers and aid and abet political ambitions counter-intuitive to our collective survival.

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