If We Could Roll Back the Clock to February 14, 2017

The Gun Debate

Recently on social media, I was asked the following question:

So 99% of the media coverage of the Parkland tragedy has focused on gun control. I’m not saying anything for or against gun control here, so please suspend for a moment your opinions on that, and answer honestly this simple hypothetical question:
If you theoretically had a child attending MSD, and could roll back the clock to a year before 2/14, in what order would you change the following options in order to keep your child safe?:

1) Have a law written somewhere saying no-one anywhere can own a semi-automatic gun.
2) Have the FBI actually follow up and act on reported risky, threatening behavior.
3) Have a school policy that allows authorities to actually report and act on aggressive, violent, or psychologically imbalanced behavior
4) Have school security officers that will actually try to stop an active shooter vs. waiting outside during a rampage.
5) Have hardened schools that mitigate the effect a shooter could have.

I’m not sure of the exact order, but #1 is at the bottom of my list. (I don’t think a law on the books, while doing nothing about the other areas, would meaningfully increase the safety of my child nearly as much as the other 4)

So why is this receiving 1% of the coverage? In this specific incident, these deaths did not happen for lack of a gun law on the books. They happened because multiple people in positions of power and responsibility neglected, ignored, or abdicated their responsibilities to keep these children safe. Holding them accountable should be of the utmost priority.

It’s a simultaneously heartbreaking and fascinating question.  Perhaps better phrased, “What wouldn’t I give to rewind the clock?”  But let’s say it was possible to rewind the clock.  Of the five choices, what would I change?  What do I believe would have saved my daughter and 16 other beautiful souls?  I responded with the following, slightly edited response:

I can find no fault with your question and wholeheartedly agree with your conclusion: a law banning any specific firearm would have been, and is today, at the bottom of my list. If 2,3,5 had been in place, 17 lives would have been saved, 17 others uninjured, thousands of lives changed for the better. If 4 had been different, 6 on the 3rd floor might have lived.

But here’s an honest attempt to answer your question on why gun control dominates the media.

A. Gun control is almost always positioned as a “silver bullet” solution, an easy way to fix a horrific & complex social problem. Its simplicity is deceptive, yet very alluring. No proof of efficacy is required, any demand made of its advocates is overshadowed by their obviously good intentions.  It requires nothing more than to be against something.  It requires very little effort beyond advocacy.  It is a single-dimensional response to a multi-dimensional problem.

B. It’s easy to call for “common sense” gun control measures for specific types of firearms. Once you call for controls, you advocate for them, by marching, protesting, harassing lawmakers & impugning the motives of anyone that disagrees with you. Marching, protesting, and harassing are passed off as indicators of common sense.  Common sense is then labeled consensus.

C. The media generally agrees with gun control as a political & policy objective. This means you will automatically get sympathetic, unearned media. The disparity in media feeds the notion of consensus and a feeling of progress.

D. Closely related to C is that controversy drives media views & clicks. Because gun control is such a divisive issue, equal parts of the country will be cheering and throwing their shoes at their TVs. Either way, they are watching and clicking and this feeds the media’s appetite.

E. Closely related to D is that gun control will never pass in any significant or meaningful form, so for the media, it’s an issue they can lather rinse & repeat = $$$.

F. Fear drives fundraising–on both sides of the issue.

G. Progressive advocacy groups are really good at B. There were pro-gun control “boots on the ground” in Parkland on Feb 15, agitating, fomenting, organizing. Marches and protests garner media clicks/views. Views = $.

Rather than focusing on trying to control the media narrative, I will continue to focus on improving schools safety, by fixing 2,3,4,5 and more specifically through efforts to improve early identification and intervention. These may not garner the media attention that other policy prescriptions do, but I am convinced by the research showing a strong correlation between suicidality and mass shooters; using suicidality as an early indicator will help us intervene and prevent future attacks.

The tragedy at Marjory Stoneman Douglas should show us that it is no longer acceptable to dismiss disturbing behavior, criminal activity, or threats against our schools. The lives of our children & teachers depend on it.  We can’t rewind the clock, but we can learn the lessons of the past.

We Found Another Big Piece of the School Shooting Puzzle–An Antibiotic for Suicide

As many of you know, since the killing of our daughter Alaina at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, in Parkland Florida on Valentines Day, Kelly and I have been searching, studying, & looking for solutions to eliminate the national scourge of school shootings. When it comes to solutions that are focused on school safety and proven to work, we are finding pieces of the puzzle all over the place.  This past week we discovered a BIG piece of the puzzle, one that could fundamentally “change the game” for early identification and intervention.  We were introduced to Dr. Kelly Posner (@posnerkelly) and the work she leads in the field of suicide prevention as Director of the Columbia Lighthouse Project at Columbia University.   

 

Dr. Kelly Posner Gerstenhaber is a professor at Columbia whose work is saving lives in forty-five nations on six continents. The President of the American Psychiatric Association noted her work “could be seen as really a watershed moment, like the introduction of antibiotics…” The U.S. Department of Defense (Dr. Franklin’s quotes) called her work “nothing short of a miracle,” is central to their National Strategy, and stated, “her effective model of improving the world will help propel us closer to a world without suicide.” The CDC noted that her work is “changing the paradigm in suicide risk assessment in the US and worldwide.” After being commissioned by the FDA to develop their scientific methods of suicide risk identification, the FDA has characterized her work as “setting a standard in the field.”  Dr. Posner Gerstenhaber is about to receive The Secretary of Defense Medal for Exceptional Public Service, the highest level of award a civilian can get for impacting the nation.  Here is a recent interview (2/22/2018) with Dr. Posner on CNN:

 

 

Enter the Columbia Lighthouse Project

Let me share a bit of Dr. Posner’s work.  The Columbian Lighthouse Project and the Columbia-Suicide Severity Rating Scale (C-SSRS) is in use in the U.S. Marine Corps, which has seen a 22% reduction in suicide.  It has helped to reduce the suicide rate by 65% over the first 20 months in the Tennessee programs of the nation’s largest provider of outpatient community behavioral health care, and reduced the suicide rate in Utah, the first decrease in suicide in almost a decade and helped to reverse an alarming, and previously increasing trend.

 

How Does the Columbia-Suicide Severity Rating Scale (C-SSRS) Work?

The Columbia-Suicide Severity Rating Scale (C-SSRS) supports suicide risk assessment through a series of simple, plain-language questions that anyone can ask. The answers help users identify whether someone is at risk for suicide, assess the severity and immediacy of that risk, and gauge the level of support that the person needs. Users of the C-SSRS tool ask people:

  • Whether and when they have thought about suicide (ideation)
  • What actions they have taken — and when — to prepare for suicide
  • Whether and when they attempted suicide or began a suicide attempt that was either interrupted by another person or stopped of their own volition

(more…)

Public School Discipline: Equal Opportunity Offenders

U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos met with supporters and critics of an Obama-era directive on school discipline on Wednesday.  Secretary DeVos is considering changes to the directive and possibly repealing the guidelines outlined therein.

That 2014 directive, issued jointly by the U.S. Departments of Education and Justice, put school districts on notice that they could be found in violation of federal civil rights law if they create and enforce intentionally discriminatory rules.  However, and perhaps more importantly, school districts could also be at risk of violating federal civil rights laws if their discipline policies lead to disproportionately higher rates of discipline for students of different racial groups.  This risk was present, even if their discipline policies were written without discriminatory intent.

There is an excellent article titled, DeVos Meets With Supporters, Critics of Discipline Rules as GAO Says Racial Disparities Persist written by Evie Blad (@evieblad) covering the meeting and the testimony shared by both proponents and opponents of the directive, over at the Rules for Engagement Blog at Education Week.

Evie writes,

At the heart of the debate of the discipline guidance is why those differing discipline rates occur and the role of the federal government in addressing them. Also at issue: whether schools’ efforts to limit “exclusionary discipline,” such as expulsions and suspensions, have helped students feel more supported or have too severely limited teacher discretion in disciplining students.

(more…)

Over 75% of Mass Shooters Communicate Prior to Their Attacks

US-Mass-Attacks-2017

In what I view as further support for state and Federal “Red Flag” legislation allowing law enforcement to seek an “Extreme Risk Protection Order” sometimes referred to as a “Gun Violence Restraining Order”, a report released today from the National Threat Assessment Center (NTAC), part of the United States Secret Service, sheds new light on mass attacks carried out in public places. The NTAC studied 28 incidents that were carried out at 31 sites in 2017 (see map).

Highlights from the report include:

  • Over three-quarters (79%) made concerning communications and/or elicited concern from others prior to carrying out their attacks. On average, those who did elicit concern caused more harm than those who did not.
  • Nearly half were motivated by a personal grievance related to a workplace, domestic, or other issue[s].
  • Over half had histories of criminal charges, mental health symptoms, and/or illicit substance use or abuse.
  • Nearly two-thirds of the attackers experienced mental health symptoms prior to their attacks. The most common symptoms observed were related to psychosis (e.g., paranoia, hallucinations, or delusions) and suicidal thoughts.
  • All had at least one significant stressor within the last five years, and over half had indications of financial instability in that timeframe.

 

The key findings from the report, “support existing best practices that the U.S. Secret Service has established in the field of threat assessment. They highlight the importance of gathering information on a person’s background, behaviors, and situational factors; corroborating the information from multiple sources; assessing the risk the individual poses for violence; and identifying intervention points to mitigate that risk.   I’ve been discussing these intervention points with members of the NTAC to better understand what we can do to protect our children from threats at school. (more…)

March For Our Lives? There is a better way

 

Today is the day.  March 24th, 2018.  March For Our Lives is happening in over 800 cities around the globe.  Not coincidentally, I was a guest on Cavuto Live on FNC because I have suggested that there is another path to keeping our kids & teachers safe at school.  The path that I believe most effective is to Fwe must take steps to secure our schools.  Second, we must keep firearms out of the hands of those that would do themselves or other harm.  There is common ground here.

In the days immediately following the murders of 17 innocent children and teachers at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School (MSD), a very familiar narrative began to emerge.  It started, as it always does, with fervent questions.  Why did this happen?  Why did this happen in Parkland? Why at Marjory Stoneman Douglas?  Why is this happening again? Why? Why? Why?  We must do something, became a unifying cry.  But the unanswered question was, do what?

Before the families had begun to mourn, a litany of national gun control factions descended on Parkland. Organizing.  Agitating.  Inculcating.   With a well-worn refrain of gun control demands, they found willing recruits still reeling from the shock of the savagery. The TV media had already arrived in Parkland; together they would prove to be a potent union.  Live feeds.  Town halls.  Justifiable anger.

But in my view, it was and is the wrong prescription.  As a nation, we’ve been down this path before.  Many times.  Too many times.  This time must be different.

Three major legislative victories in the past five weeks, tell me that we are on the right path.  We have found common ground and we have ideas that will help to prevent another tragedy like Valentine’s day at Marjory Stoneman Douglas.

Just this week, ArizonaGovernor Ducey has proposed legislation, Safe Arizona Schools (pdf) based on the legislation we helped pass in Florida.  Here’s a look at what it does and here’s commentary from AZ Central’s Jon Gabriel.

ARIZONA PRIORITIES

As Arizonans shared their priorities during the stakeholder process, common themes were identified, including an urgency for:

  • Increased mental and behavioral health resources at schools
  • Restricting access to firearms for individuals who pose a severe threat to themselves or others, while respecting the second amendment rights of law-abiding Arizonans
  • Increased school resource officer and law enforcement presence at schools
  • Enhanced background checks

THE PLAN

Our proposal includes initiatives that are responsive to the priorities of Arizonans.

  • Invests in mental and behavioral health resources at schools
  • Severe Threat Order of Protection (STOP) to restrict firearm access for individuals who are a danger to themselves or others
  • Enhances background checks by improving the completeness and accuracy of the criminal history database
  • Establishes the Center for School Safety, creating a confidential, centralized reporting tip line to report and investigate concerns of school safety
  • Increases school resource officer funding and training and increases the presence of law enforcement on school grounds
  • Eliminates background check gaps
  • Respects the second amendment rights of law-abiding Arizonans

Sound familiar?  Kudos to Arizona for making a substantive proposal.  It’s now up to the Arizona legislature to pass these proposals.  We’ve shown how to do it in Florida.

As parents of the victim’s of MSD, we will continue to build on common ground across the US.  State by state and at the Federal level.  More on that later…