7 things America can’t do to reduce mass violence

Another youthful slaughter, then a rote parade of shattered students, cacophony to ban all guns or arm every citizen.  Candlelight vigils, flowers, teddy bears mark the passing of more datapoints into statistical analyses of carnage. It’s sound and fury and no action.

Dr. Megan Ranney penned the piercing “5 things America can do today to reduce gun deaths.”

I submit 7 things America can’t do to reduce mass violence.

You can’t repeal the Second Amendment.

Have you read the Constitution?  The whole thing?  It’s only 15 pages; take a look sometime.  You can’t repeal the Constitution nor amendments.  Your only option is to pass another amendment that will supersede the previous parts. For example, the 18th Amendment prohibited the production, transport, and sale of alcohol. The 21st Amendment superseded that amendment and made it legal again.

Passing a Constitutional amendment is toil.  It requires a 2/3 majority of the Senate, plus a 2/3 majority of the House, then has to be ratified by a 3/4 majority of states.  That’s a high bar, when we can barely get politicians to agree on anything.  It’s only happened 27 times in the last 242 years.

Work through the legislative process to create wise laws that maximize firearm harm reduction strategies.  Research solutions to provide data that will help us make hard choices.  By all means, use your passion and pain.  However, all of you tweeting #repeal2, please stop. You can’t do it; it’s against the rules. You can’t repeal the Constitution, because it’s not a law.  Don’t demand impossible action; it’s a waste of time and energy.

You can’t blame this all on guns.

Mass violence also happens without guns.  Even if guns weren’t involved, 355 people in the U.S. over the past decade would still have died in mass killings from other mechanisms.

Chris Martin’s article in the Independent Journal Review recounts thirteen mass killings without guns; weapons ranged from knives, machetes, and baseball bats to explosives and simply driving a car into a crowd.

Focusing only on the tool misses the bigger issues of what motivates mass violence perpetrators and how to identify and stop them.  Guns need to be a part of the conversation, but not the only thread.

You can’t ignore warning signs.

Most mass assailants brag about their plans online or to friends.  The Florida shooter practiced building bombs and claimed to be a school shooter on YouTube.  Despite these warnings, the FBI was unable to stop this attack.

Many plots have been foiled because a neighbor, a friend, a teacher communicated a concern.  We don’t know how many near misses we’ve had because someone was vigilant.  If you notice unusual behavior, report it to the authorities.  Encourage your kids to do the same.

You can’t insist on privacy and security.

After 9/11, America prioritized combatting terrorism, exacting a price of diminished privacy.  The Patriot Act makes it easier to stop terrorists; in return, we sacrifice some of our precious secrecy.

If we want to stop mass violence, we need law enforcement to be able to intervene.  Your teenager’s Instagram account may not be sacrosanct, and we need to accept that as a society. It must be a crime to threaten a school or post videos describing attacks, and we must adequately staff our law enforcement to respond quickly.

You can’t be a soft target.

Shooters and terrorists prefer soft targets.  Schools have little security, and children are unlikely to fight back.  Weapons are prohibited.  The psychological impact of attacking women and children is much higher than a random office building. Every aggression is engineered for impact.

We have a responsibility to make our schools hard targets.  Bulletproof windows prevent shooters from bypassing security to gain access, like happened at Sandy Hook.  Reinforced doors secured from inside can provide a safe place to hide.  If teachers want to carry weapons, work with law enforcement to explore if it is safe, feasible, and effective.  Post armed officers in every school.  Let’s protect our children as the treasures they are.

You can’t give shooters what they crave.

Prominent psychologists studying mass shooters trace a common thread: They crave attention. Several articles, like Malcolm Gladwell’s in the New Yorker, talk about how school shootings are a slowly spreading riot, each shooter empowering the next to take action.

Stop giving them what they desire.  After the UCC shootings, the Douglas County Sheriff famously refused to name the perpetrator.  Stop creating the notoriety they so desperately need, and we may remove the motivation to try to outdo the previous monster.

You can’t protect your sacred cows.

Political discourse is dominated by extremists, shouting insults across a chasm.  Aggression rarely produces thoughtful results, and further polarizes issues.

If we crave a solution, we have to be willing to dissect our sacred truths. I fiercely believe in the Second Amendment.  I’m also a mother.  I’m willing to take a hard look at infringing on my right to keep and bear arms if there is evidence that it will keep my boys safe.  We need reasonable people on opposing sides of the debate willing to put their sanctified bovines on the block for deliberation.

Mass violence is an act of evil, with many forms and tools.  Creating effective firearm harm reduction strategies is important, but not at the expense of personal and community preparation and vigilance.  It cannot supplant law enforcement’s imperative to identify perpetrators before they act.  It fails to explain the dark heart and how we eradicate the slow riot before it can spread.  As a country, we need to look not just at what we can do, but what we can’t, to keep our children out of the kill zone.

Torree McGowan is an emergency physician and can be reached at ER Disaster Doc and on Twitter @erdisasterdoc.

Image credit: Shutterstock.com

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