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

The Gun Debate

Recently on my social media stream, a friend proposed the following thought exercise about gun control and time travel.  After the Parkland tragedy that took 17 lives, including my daughter Alaina, I took some time to reflect on this.  Here is what my friend proposed:

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?”  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 remains today, at the bottom of my list. If 2,3,5 had been in place, 17 lives would have been saved, 17 others uninjured, with thousands of lives unchanged by the horror of February 14, 2018. If only 4 had been different, 6 on the 3rd floor might have lived.”  (see Public School Discipline: Equal Opportunity Offenders)

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 and therefore alluring. No proof of efficacy is required, any demand for proof made of advocates is overshadowed by the obviously good intentions.

  • Being for it demands nothing more than to be against something.
  • There is very little effort demanded 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 is passed off as indicators of authenticity.  Common sense is promoted as consensus.

C. The media generally agrees with gun control as a political & policy objective. This means you will automatically get sympathetic, earned 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 are the gun control measures generated by advocacy groups and promulgated by the media.  These will never pass in any significant or meaningful form, so for the media, it’s an issue where they can lather rinse & repeat = $$$.

Responsible firearms ownership, on the other hand, is not only politically viable but far more effective in stopping the violence.  Responsible firearms ownership’s only fault: It is not as interesting to the media nor to advocacy groups focused on agitating and controversy.  For example, what we (as a community) did with Florida Senate Bill 7026 was an effort to keep firearms away from those that want to harm themselves or others, by creating a “red flag” law in Florida.    Improving the background check system as we did with the FixNICS Act in the US Congress and recently signed into law by the President. Two very effective tools in the fight against violence, but not headline generators.

F. And it’s not just the media that benefit but the advocacy groups on both sides of the controversy that whip up angst and use it to drive membership & donations.  Just look at what happened after Parkland.  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 = $.

Why School Safety Should Be Our Focus

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 and the evidence that early identification works.   On that note:  There is 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.

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.

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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.

https://twitter.com/rpetty/status/977046141136142336

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…

 

Governor Scott appointed me to the Florida High School Public Safety Commission

On March 20, Governor Rick Scott appointed me to the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Commission.  I am honored to be appointed and pleased to accept.  I look forward to serving the citizens of the state of Florida, and especially our children and teachers.  I will work tirelessly to ensure that we learn the lessons from the massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas on Valentines Day.  We can make our schools much safer and avoid the mistakes of the past.

See the announcement below.

 

Gov. Scott, Senate President Negron and House Speaker Corcoran Announce Appointments to the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Commission

On March 20, 2018

Governor Scott Names Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri as Chairman

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Today, Governor Rick Scott, Senate President Joe Negron and House Speaker Richard Corcoran announced appointments to the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Commission within the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. Governor Scott also named Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri as Chairman. The Commission was established by SB 7026, the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Act, signed into law by Governor Scott.

Governor Scott said, “I’m proud to appoint five dedicated Floridians to the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Commission including fathers of two of the victims who were critical in helping a bill get passed quickly. Since the shooting in Parkland, our number one focus has been to make our schools safer while doing everything possible to ensure a tragedy like this never happens again. I’m confident that these appointees will continue the work that has already started in our state to keep our students safe.”

Senate President Joe Negron said, “The Senate appointees include a former classroom teacher and nationally-recognized child advocate, a school board member, a law enforcement officer, a retired school resource officer, and a renowned mental health treatment clinician. This diverse cross-section of professional experience and subject matter expertise, will serve the state well as the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Commission embarks on the critically important task before it. We can never replace the 17 lives lost, and we can never erase the traumatic experience that lives on in the memories of those who survived this horrific attack. However, this Commission will help ensure we do everything we can to reduce the possibility of a tragedy like this ever happening again.”

House Speaker Richard Corcoran said, “I’m honored to appoint five members to the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Commission.  The work and recommendations of this commission will, I believe, serve as a model for the nation in addressing school safety and protecting individual liberty. The appointees to the commission bring decades of experience in law enforcement, prosecution, and training civilians to handle firearms and protect a school.  Most importantly, an appointee, Max Schachter, brings the tragic experience of being a father who lost his son in that day’s awful events and who is driven to ensure it never happens to another family ever again. I thank those willing to participate, I commend the courage of the family members who will take on this task, and pray that all the efforts of this commission will meet with success.”

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In Defense of WalkUp My Segment on the Michaela Show on HLN

Yesterday I had an opportunity to talk about #WalkUp on national TV. I was invited to be on the Michaela Pereira show on @HLNTV.  The idea behind #WalkUp is not mine.  In fact, I saw it on a Facebook post from a friend of a friend.  Here is what inspired me:

Instead of walking out of school on March 14, encourage students to walk up — walk up to the kids who sits alone at lunch and invite him to sit with your group; walk up to the kids who sits quietly in the corner of the room and site next to her, smile and say Hi; walk up to the kid who causes disturbances in class and ask how he is doing; walk up to your teachers and thank them; walk up to someone who has different view that you and get to know them – you may be surprised at how much you have in common.  Build own that foundation instead of casting stone.  I challenge students to find 14 students and 3 adults to walk up to and say something nice in honor of those who died in (Parkland) FL on the 14th of February. But you can start practicing now! #walkupnotout

The controversy that led to my invitation to be on HLN started when I posted this on Twitter:

https://twitter.com/rpetty/status/973631107651592194

It seems almost unbelievable to me that we as a society would debate the importance of being kind.  Unfortunately, the #WalkUp movement is often misunderstood and mischaracterized, sometimes purposely so.  I’ve seen several attempts to label #WalkUp as “victim blaming” or misrepresenting the impact that being kind can have on a disaffected and potentially violent youth.  Do I believe that the shooter at Marjory Stoneman Douglas could have been stopped if the students had been more kind to him?  Of course not.  In meetings last week with the Director of the Secret Service and the head of the National Threat Assessment Center (NTAC), apart of the Secret Service, I learned that there is a path along which disaffected & troubled youth travel called a “Continuum of Violence”.  A few of the key findings & implications are:

Students who engaged in school-based attacks typically did not “just snap” and then engage in impulsive or random acts of targeted school violence. Instead, the attacks examined under the Safe School Initiative appeared to be the end result of a comprehensible process of thinking and behavior: behavior that typically began with an idea, progressed to the development of a plan, moved on to securing the means to carry out the plan and culminated in an attack.

An important element in preventing these attacks is information that can be provided by students.  These are often key pieces of a puzzle when pieced together can aid school officials and law enforcement in stopping the attack.

First and foremost, this finding suggests that students can be an important part of prevention efforts. A friend or schoolmate may be the first person to hear that a student is thinking about or planning to harm someone. Nevertheless, for a variety of reasons, those who have information about a potential incident of targeted school violence may not alert an adult on their own. Schools can encourage students to report this information in part by identifying and breaking down barriers in the school environment that inadvertently may discourage students from coming forward with this information. Schools also may benefit from ensuring that they have a fair, thoughtful and effective system to respond to whatever information students do bring forward. If students have concerns about how adults will react to information that they bring forward, they may be even less inclined to volunteer such information.

By fostering an atmosphere of kindness as embodied in the #WalkUp movement, imagine the impact a student may have after having befriended a troubled classmate and felt if that student felt comfortable sharing that information with an adult.  It is not the responsibility of the student to intervene, just to share information, their piece of the puzzle, a piece that could ultimately stop an act of violence before it starts.

Several key findings point to the fact that kids send signals–both directly and indirectly–to others regarding their problems. The boys who engaged in the targeted school violence examined by the Safe School Initiative were not “invisible” students. In fact nearly all of these students engaged in behaviors–prior to their attacks–that caused concern to at least one person, usually an adult, and most concerned at least three people.

This finding highlights the range of behaviors in a student’s life that may be noticeable and that could prompt some additional probing by a caring adult. A student’s family, teachers, friends and others may have information regarding aspects of a student’s behavior that has raised concern.

So, #WalkUp can help change the school culture and create an environment of trust and safety as well enabling the sharing of vital information that could help protect students and teachers at school.  If the #WalkUp effort is done early enough on that continuum, a life can be changed in a positive way forever.  I’d say it’s worth more than a try.

If you’d like to read more about the research Secret Service has done on making our schools safer, you can find it here:  THE FINAL REPORT AND FINDINGS OF THE SAFE SCHOOL INITIATIVE (pdf)