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Columns : Editorial

Can You Prevent Mass Shootings?

The "Dark Knight" and Sikh temple massacres have many in law enforcement pondering this critical question.

September 12, 2012  |  by - Also by this author

Screenshot: ABC News
Screenshot: ABC News

Thanks to two active shooters, it's been a summer of terror for the American public. One of the shooters is allegedly a mentally unstable student who is accused of murdering 12 Aurora, Colo., movie patrons at the "Dark Knight Rises" premiere and the other was reportedly a white supremacist who murdered six Sikhs in a Wisconsin temple.

One of the consequences of these mass murders is that people nationwide are anxious about going to the movies, and certain religious minorities are concerned about the possibility of hatemongers interrupting their worship services with gunfire. That's bad.

What's good is that people are actually talking about what can be done to curb these shootings and how to respond to them. And that includes law enforcement.

Last month POLICE Magazine conducted a survey of 19,000 readers of the OnTarget e-newsletter of PoliceMag.com. You can read more about it here. So I'm not going to rehash any of the findings here. What I do want to discuss is the collection of answers we received to the following question: What measures do you think would prevent mass shooting attacks in public places?

We gave respondents to that question the opportunity to write in answers. And some of them were quite interesting.

The most popular answer was expansion of concealed carry (CCW). CCW permitting and training is viewed by some officers as a force multiplier. More than one respondent presented strong cases for such action. "A CCW citizen is a lot more likely to be in a position to stop a mass shooting quickly than responding officers," one wrote. Another added, "The police can't be everywhere, and it only takes seconds to shoot multiple magazines. If more citizens carried, they could stop these attacks before they got out of hand."

Expanding concealed carry into places where it's not currently permitted such as movie theaters and houses of worship wasn't popular with all respondents. One even said that CCW should be limited to officers and retired officers.

Off-duty law enforcement carry was also a popular topic. One respondent even suggested that officers be enticed to carry off duty with an incentive such as a "tax break" or airline discount.

Of course a number of respondents mentioned such measures as posting armed guards or setting up metal detectors that people must pass through to enter a venue. Unfortunately, as some respondents pointed out, the gunman in the Aurora shooting was so well armed that it's likely his first victim would have been the armed guard. A more tactically viable suggestion was made by one respondent who suggested plainclothes security.

A variation on the theme of adding guards at certain venues was voiced by several respondents who suggested that the owners of businesses hire off-duty law enforcement officers to provide security at special events. This might work, but it would raise the price of tickets or concessions substantially, since most entertainment venues operate on very narrow margins. Another said that departments should hire more officers. Which is unlikely in this stressful economic environment.

Several respondents agreed with my August column arguing a desire for fame was one of the motivations for mass shootings and news media should deprive the shooters of that fame. "Stop glorifying these criminals by giving them their 15 minutes of fame," one wrote.

A very popular and intriguing idea covered the issue of mental health professionals contacting law enforcement when individuals express violent desires that could lead to mass murder. Currently, such notification is illegal under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPA). Typical answers went something like this: "Exempt HIPA protection and mandate that mental health professionals release directly to law enforcement information on patients treated for violent behaviors or fantasies." It's unlikely this would ever happen, but it might have made a difference in Aurora.

There were a wide variety of other comments. Some were in favor of more intensive background checks for weapon purchases. Others wanted a swift death penalty for mass shootings. And still others wanted more rigid gun control. More than one respondent suggested teaching civilians to have a plan of response as advised by the "Run, Hide, Fight" video produced by the city of Houston and endorsed by numerous SWAT teams.

Perhaps the most disturbing comment was one of surrender. "You can't prevent evil," the respondent wrote. That may be so. But everyone in the good fight has to try to stop these mass murders.

Related:

Police Readers Support Concealed Carry, Romney for President

Survey: Gun Control, Active Shooters, and the Election

The High Price of Fame

Tags: Active Shooters, 2012 Aurora Shooting, Sikh Temple Shooting


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