A writer on the solidly left-wing Mother Jones website would be expected, in response to the recent shootings in Buffalo and Texas, to demand strict gun control of the sort that clearly lacks support in Congress.
Fortunately, a column by Mark Follman is everything but that. It includes excellent insight into traits that mass shooters share and what we can do to prevent these tragedies.
Follman has been studying shootings for years and his book on the topic, Trigger Points,” came out this month. He believes that while the complaints about inaction on gun laws are justified, they also can encourage future potential attackers to take action. The complaints, he wrote, validate the shootings and make them a permanent feature of American culture.
“And mass shooters pay heed,” he wrote on Mother Jones. “They want notoriety, and they seek justification and credibility for their acts of violence. And in the message that America will never stop these mass shootings, they find such affirmation.”
Shootings like the two the country has experienced this month can be prevented. In fact, a lot of them already are, thanks to local “threat assessment teams” that intervene, usually when someone who knows a troubled person alerts authorities to a potential problem.
Follman believes the potential to stop mass shooters before they take action would increase if everyone would ignore what he calls myths about these attackers. The primary error is that the killers are mentally ill.
“No mass shooter, by definition, is mentally healthy,” he wrote. “These are people with deep rage, despair and other problems, who need help in various ways. But the exploitation of mental illness in lay terms is highly misleading and counterproductive to preventing these attacks.
“Extensive case history shows that mass shooters don’t just suddenly break — they decide. They arm themselves and prepare to attack, choosing where and when to strike. Often this is a highly organized and methodical process. Blaming mental illness for mass shootings inflicts a damaging stigma on the millions of people who suffer from clinical afflictions, the vast majority of whom are not violent.”
Follman said he studied many threat investigations and mass shootings, and every one of them showed a mix of clear warning signals:
• Entrenched grievances: These can be real or perceived mistreatments or injustices.
• Threatening communications: Attackers tend to give advance notice of their plans in conversations or online posts.
• Patterns of aggression: Acts such as domestic violence indicate a higher risk.
• Stalking: This harassment was first documented in political assassins and celebrity followers.
• Emulation: Mass shooters often say they identify with prior attackers and want to copy what they did.
• Personal deterioration: The breakdown of a routine or a loss of resilience is a warning.
• Triggering events: This includes a major failure at work, school or in a personal relationship.
• Attack preparation: Buying a gun, practicing at a shooting range and checking out a potential target building are common activities shortly before an attack.
Greater awareness of these traits are essential to increased intervention before someone makes the decision to attack. Follman advocates “a relentless, long-term effort to strengthen our nation’s gun laws,” along with stamping out a surge in political extremism.
But the larger points may be more achievable: Investing in mental health treatment and continuing to build up community-based violence prevention programs.
— Jack Ryan, McComb Enterprise-Journal