NOTE: The following column was written and titled two days prior to the recent tragedy in Newtown, Connecticut. While I believe the content is that much more relevant, the events in Newtown are so horrific that I apologize if the following piece appears blithe by comparison.
Quick question- is the following a news headline or a statement so ubiquitous it might well be classified as cliche?
“Masked gunman opens fire in crowded public place, killing several before taking his own life”
The answer, of course, is that this line not only describes the latest mass shooting event – this one in a Portland mall packed with Christmas shoppers (Trib 12/12) – but it also parallels the description of numerous other incidents since the Columbine shooting in 1999.
Mass shooting events have exploded in number since that fateful event, and to that list we can add disparate locales such as Fort Worth, Washington D.C., Chicago, Birchwood and Brookfield, Nickel Mines, Blacksburg, Omaha, Dekalb and Covina. In our own state, we can add Carnation and Alder, even Tacoma, to the list. And on it goes.
In fact, it would take little alteration to the above statement for it to encompass the parameters of virtually all of these events. For example, we could substitute a school, movie theater or apartment complex for “crowded public place”; we could specify a number in lieu of “several”; and we could alter the fate of the shooter from “taking his own life” to “before surrendering to police” or being shot by police.”
The fact that such subtle changes can cover the spread on what has become an increasingly deadly and growing form of domestic terrorism should get everyone’s attention. Mass shootings may not represent a high percentage of our nation’s annual homicides, but the psychological effects are disproportionately great. One simply can’t ignore the seemingly endless accounts of disaffected loners or deranged individuals who somehow access high-powered weapons with the intent of- what? Is blood the only ink our national conscience is capable of reading anymore?
Enough rhetorical questions. What we need are a few reasonable solutions.
The law enforcement community has embraced “Active Shooter,” a scenario-based training model that blends ideology and tactics for first responders with community outreach to potential target locations, such as shopping malls and schools.
The model could be extended even further. As a public safety education, the customers, students and passersby caught up in a sudden panic should at least have some clue. Like airline safety briefings, being aware of the best escape routes and what to do in the first moments of a potential shooting incident may not contain the problem, but it may slow the spiral into utter chaos. It would mean acknowledging that we have become dangerously apathetic to a growing threat.
The problem with these solutions is that they treat the symptom rather than the disease. Somehow, we must find a way to intervene before a antisocial individual morphs into an unstable and well-armed gunman bent on becoming the next pseudo-celebrity killer.
Since one-issue voters and gun rights advocates have put the firearms issue off the table, I see only one solution. We must deny future gunmen the one thing that their ruined and estranged lives failed to provide. The spotlight.
Even disaffected, violent loners watch the news, read the paper and keep abreast of the Twitterverse. When the media saturates the connected world with glory shots (photos of a black-clad, gun-toting photo (taken by the gunman himself before the shooting), it is all but an invitation for the next loser, hungry for similar fame, to arm himself and find a suitable killing ground.
When we take into account the grisly chronology of mass shootings, it’s hard to escape the fact that, in the eyes of these killers, we are merely sheep for the slaughter. The question is, should we sharpen their knives as well?