Focus on the fact that people are both the problem and the solution.
What is the answer to the mass casualty shootings? Since the root of the problem is generally different for each incident, there is probably no single answer. However, there does seem to be one common thread—most of the shooters had some type of mental issue. It also seems that people knew these individuals had some type of problem and had the potential to do this sort of thing. Why didn’t someone get involved and do something or say something?
Law enforcement can only respond to the information that is provided to them. If someone is aware of a certain type of behavior that calls their mental stableness into question, someone should say something. Law enforcement does not know all things about everyone. We need the eyes and ears of the community to help us. The community can help more than they realize. Law enforcement asks the citizens to help with burglaries, thefts and many other crimes that occur in the community. We need the community to tell us when something is not right.
We count on them just as they rely on us. The principle is the same with mass casualty shootings. Citizens rely on us to protect them when critical incidents occur. We do not know who is making threats and who is unstable in the remarks that are being made. We need to actively solicit this information. We need to know what is being said and what rumors are going around. We do not want these unstable people in our jails but we need them to get help from the appropriate authorities.
We cannot take our focus off people in the search for the root of the problem. To the point, it is not the guns. Guns really do not kill people. It is people who kill people. Sometimes unstable people are the ones who possess high-capacity weapons. The simple fact of the matter is, loss of life can be mitigated through training and preparedness. We know from Canton v. Harris what the result of failure to train can be. Why do we insist on making training the last thing we want to do? Why is it that the first thing most places cut from their budget is training? Let’s learn from these tragedies and not keep making the same mistakes over again.
We should be working with the boards of education and they too should be willing to work with us. Each agency has its own issues with training and schedules with Education Boards. We should be a forethought and not an afterthought. It often appears that when schools are built, they have little or no law enforcement input. Small changes with security in mind during the construction phase could strengthen the integrity of the facility.
I once took a tour of some schools and observed that the way they are situated, one or two gunmen could cause mass casualties for at least two schools. It has the potential to shut down the entire school system, our community, and the neighboring community as well. You would have thought I talked about doing physical harm to the children myself, by the way they looked at me. About a year later, one man with a knife walking around in a neighborhood in close proximity to the schools caused them to lock down all of the schools. He only had a knife.
While we ask our communities for help, let’s also become part of a solution as a resource for your school system. At any given time, think about the number of people who own guns and the number of guns that are on the street. The numbers of these violent incidences, compared to the numbers referred to previously, are actually very few. Keep in mind, the people who commit these violent acts are the problem.
Lt. Colonel T. Chris Owens is with the Lee County, Ga. Sheriff’s Office and may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.