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Mustering An Urgency To Prevent Mass Shootings Outside The Gun Debate

Studying and addressing behavioral patterns should be an immediate priority of Congress, the media, and others dedicated to preventing mass shootings.


There’s an incredible urgency to the gun control movement in part because the solution to mass shootings seems, to proponents, like such an obvious fix. The problem is clear and it’s firearms. But whether or not you accept the wisdom of that solution (I do not), there’s another avenue towards prevention that should certainly instill a similar sense of urgency.

National Review published a poignant look this week at “Why Meadow Died,” a new book written by Max Eden and Andrew Pollack, who lost his daughter Meadow in the Parkland shooting. The review walks readers through the book’s documentation of the many failures to properly address warnings that the Parkland shooter posed a threat to his community. This is a pattern that shows up time and again in the records of mass shooters.

We know such evildoers almost always transmit warning signs. We know those signs are often visible to authorities, schools, doctors, neighbors, and more—albeit usually with varying degrees of blatancy.

This isn’t to say we must come to a consensus on the existence of those patterns. I think we have. It’s to say that we should be working furiously to determine how best they can be interrupted before tragedy unfolds — at least as furiously as we work on other causes. That is not happening on an adequate scale.

What’s frustrating is that such efforts can accompany the more partisan efforts, be they gun control or concealed carry. They aren’t mutually exclusive. But because those issues are so charged, the national dialogue is consumed immediately after mass shootings by a debate that leaves us perpetually at loggerheads, perpetually heartbroken, perpetually helpless.

Of course, some energy has been spent addressing these issues, involving very mixed strategies. Obviously it has not been enough. When these perpetrators’ behavioral patterns are as common to the problem as the guns they wield, we should be urgently pouring our resources—governmental or otherwise—into determining how that information can be used in prevention efforts.

In fact, given the potential for bipartisan creativity, an argument could be made that such work would be a more constructive use of our resources. Further, as in the Parkland case, as Pollack and Eden identify, there are obvious points of failure that should inspire major legislative and cultural correction efforts.

There is no easy solution or quick fix to mass shootings. (I often wonder whether there’s an effective solution at all.) But so often we look back on a shooter’s record and marvel at our repeated failures to intervene, because so often they share similar patterns of behavior, and so often those behaviors present us with missed opportunities to intervene. They are glaring in retrospect.

Studying and addressing those patterns should be an immediate and significant priority of Congress, the media, and the nonprofit sector dedicated to preventing these tragedies—especially since it would not be mutually exclusive with any of partisan prevention strategies that consume so much of the debate.