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?:
Have a law written somewhere saying no-one anywhere can own a semi-automatic gun.
Have the FBI actually follow up and act on reported risky, threatening behavior.
Have a school policy that allows authorities to actually report and act on aggressive, violent, or psychologically imbalanced behavior.
Have school security officers that will actually try to stop an active shooter vs. waiting outside during a rampage.
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.
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
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.
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.
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…)
Today I named @MCSOFlorida Cpl. Jimmy Long the 2018 School Resource Officer of the Year. On 04/20/18, after hearing gun shots at Forest High School, Cpl. Long did not hesitate to protect the lives of innocent high schoolers. Cpl. Long is a hero & we honor him for his courage.
#Police4Petty Fraternal Order of Police District 5 members are proud to endorse and strongly support @rpetty for Broward County School Board District 8. #Pushing4Petty #FOP31Strong #FOP31ConnectingWhileProtecting https://t.co/fo5pq6DnRF