Tuesday, May 31, 2022

Mourning with Uvalde – what can we do?

 After the Parkland murders occurred, and again after the Santa Fe murders I asked my readers to take action.   I ask you again to please take individual action within your own sphere of influence. Please, also communicate with school and governmental leaders. Hold them accountable and demand that they implement solutions. Do not assume that your schools are safe.  Demand testing, practice, and exercise protocols be instituted.

Once again America mourns the loss of innocent children.  How horrible for the people of Uvalde to suffer such a loss of innocent life.  That such things can happen seems unimaginable, but we know them all too well.  May each of these families, and the community of Uvalde, find peace and healing after their immense loss.  May their loss and God’s love inspire our nation to gain the understanding and wisdom needed to come together with humility in a cooperative manner to prevent such horror in other communities.

The death, sorrow, and anger generated by events like those in Uvalde, Santa Fe, Parkland, and Sandy Hook, are often seen as catalysts for change. In our sorrow, anger, and frustration a collective cry of “Do Something!” rings out.  But the strong emotion soon subsides for those not directly impacted.  The media quickly moves on to new issues and events.  Politicians attempt to score as many points as they can expressing outrage, and condemnation of their opponents while accomplishing little or nothing.  The public moves on to daily life and its many distractions of technology, entertainment, and sport.   The nation’s attention span is short – little is accomplished that might make a difference in preventing additional horrors in the next community.  Thus, we end up back here in this terrible place.

There is no easy answer to stop these horrible events.  Reducing their likelihood is difficult and complex.  Progress comes only through consistent long-term focus and collaboration among the many Americans, both those who do and do not own firearms, who in good faith want solutions to this issue. There is plenty of room to work on effective and achievable immediate and short-term goals that can build trust and confidence for longer-term research to support additional effective solutions.

After the Parkland murders, I wrote a series of blog posts to better understand the issues of firearm rights and realities to encourage effective change.  For context and insight into the constraints of the real world I recommend those blog posts again.

Post Parkland – Constitutional constraints to action described the context and constraints on firearm laws.  The Second Amendment is not going to be repealed in our lifetimes.  Wishing it away will achieve nothing.  Better to understand its constraints and create achievable solutions within the law.

Post Parkland: Firearms – Inventories, statistics, and definitions  provided information about the extent of gun ownership in the U.S. About 40% of households have guns; NICS firearm background checks increased 55% from 2017 to 2020 and remain at that level through 2022; there are nearly 400 million guns in circulation; 15 million are added every year; about 20 million are AR-15 type. Wishing them away will achieve nothing.

Post Parkland – dangerousness and firearm access  addressed the issues of the perpetrator’s mental health and motivations.  There is near universal agreement that dangerous people should not have access to firearms.  How can these individuals be identified, what are the risk indicators, what are the legal constraints to intervening in their right to own a firearm?

Post Parkland (and now Santa Fe) - Call to action was a call to action following both Parkland and Santa Fe. This post contained templates for letters that readers could edit to their individual perspective and send to every government official from their School Superintendent to the White House.

Success is needed in taking steps to prevent or mitigate mass public shootings.  This will require Immediate, Short-term, and Long-term action.  I am a firm believer that individual communication of concern and demands to leaders is an effective way to bring about that action.  Below are some suggestions for readers to consider in their communication and advocacy that have considerable support among both gun owners and non-gun owners.

IMMEDIATE ACTION: assess and improve physical security at schools and improve the ability of schools and communities to detect dangerous persons and intervene effectively.

The immediate safety and security of children in school is far more dependent on what is done locally than nationally. There has been progress in improving physical security at schools in recent years.  However, it is clearly not enough.   The Uvalde school district reported it had a comprehensive school safety program.  It did not work.  It is reported the assailant was firing a weapon on or near school grounds for twelve minutes before entering the building through a door propped open by a teacher. Public safety leadership failed in their onsite decision-making.

Every school district and community should be asking why Uvalde failed and ask hard questions of themselves.  Leaving this to community leaders is not sufficient.  The broader community must be more fully engaged.

Parents, grandparents, teachers, first responders, and other community members need to come together to collectively ensure that their schools are as safe as required to prevent or mitigate the actions of a mass public shooter.  As a first step, demand a community meeting at the local high school auditorium to increase knowledge and begin an assessment for actions to be taken.  

At the meeting, school administrators and public safety officials should provide a presentation to the community on what actions they have taken and what actions and resources are needed to improve school safety.   The meeting should be open to all and primarily be an opportunity to inform the public, but also for leaders to hear the concerns and ideas of the public.  Additional meetings to develop plans, seek volunteers, and act would follow.

There are several resources for a community to read in preparation for such a meeting.   The Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Commission Report provided a comprehensive assessment of lessons learned at Parkland and other mass shooting events. The federal government issued The Final Report of the Federal Commission on School Safety in 2018.  There are many other resources at the Department of Justice for safety planning and at SchoolSafety.gov .

A specific request should be made to determine what policies, procedures and technologies are in place to detect potentially dangerous students and community members.  Too often after an event there is a plethora of information that these perpetrators were clearly dangerous.  Why isn’t this information detected before the event?  Are there technology answers?  Are there cultural issues in the community that suppress people from speaking up? 

Talk with friends, family and colleagues in your community.  Call or write your town or city leaders, school committee, and police chief and ask them to call a community meeting.  The public cannot simply leave this in their hands and assume every possible effort has been made.   The risk is too great.  The cost too high.

SHORT TERM ACTION: Pass Extreme Risk Protection Order (ERPO) legislation in every state; ensure states that have ERPO have in place policies, procedures, and resources to use the law effectively; pass federal legislation to aid states in passing and resourcing ERPO laws; pass federal legislation requiring universal background checks.

Following the Parkland murders, Florida passed comprehensive laws to try and stop future such events.   One of its major achievements was the passage of an Extreme Risk Protection Order law (aka Red Flag law).   Many other states followed and there are now 19 states with ERPO laws.

States with ERPO Laws: California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, District of Columbia, Florida, Hawaii, Illinois, Indiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia, Washington.

These laws are essential to successful intervention at the intersection of dangerousness and firearm access.   They typically create a process for the removal of guns from the possession of an individual who demonstrates they are dangerous to themselves or others.  

Do not assume that because your state has passed a law that it is being implementing properly! 

Unfortunately, it appears the effectiveness of implementing the laws varies dramatically by state.  One recent report indicated Florida used the law “2,355 times to temporarily remove guns last year, nearly half the national total.”  New York, with a comparable population to Florida only used its law 255 times. 

Passing a law is not the final answer, only the enabling part. Government representatives always focus on passing new laws so that they can say they “did something.”  Passing a law is just the beginning of a process to create institutions and resources to use the law successfully to its intended purpose.  We are not good at this and failure to enforce existing laws creates resistance to passing new laws.   It is essential that citizens hold their leaders to account on the enforcement of laws.

The federal government should aid states in establishing ERPO laws and help with resources in implementing ERPO laws effectively.   Statistics on ERPO actions should be collected nationally and reported by state and county. A clearinghouse of best practices and protection of rights should be established to share with states and localities.

Communities should develop proactive programs to encourage anonymous reporting of potentially dangerous people.  But it is essential to build in guardrails to ensure it does not become a place to report the local “weirdo” who’s lifestyle is different or for personal vendettas. 

A bipartisan bill was introduced in the Senate in 2018 titled The Extreme Risk Protection and Violence Protection Act yet it still is not passed and signed into law.   Passing this Act would be an easy first step for the federal government to act.

The federal government should also codify a clearinghouse of resources and information available to improve school safety.  The bipartisan School Safety Clearinghouse Act was introduced in 2019.  After Uvalde, Senators brought the Act to the Senate floor for approval but the Senate Leader would not allow a vote.  Why is this so hard?

There is also an opportunity to pass a federal safe storage law that sets certain minimum requirements for manufacturers, dealers, and buyers with more options at the state level. 

The federal government is more highly constrained in taking decisive action because health and safety is the domain of state and local governments.  There are things it can do, but it is simply too hard to gain agreement among the diverse national interests.   It can play an affirmative role by passing those two bipartisan non-controversial acts on School Safety and ERPO and additionally pass - Universal Background Checks.  

Twenty-two states and D.C. have various private sale reporting requirements.   A national law is needed to allow the National Instant Criminal Background Check System to track all gun sales and transfers.  About one quarter of gun sales are conducted privately and not subject to a background check. There is tremendous public support for universal checks with polling support exceeding 80%.  The National Rifle Association (NRA) has in the past agreed that all sales at gun shows should be subject to a background check. 

Passing a Universal Background Check law would help to reduce illegal trafficking of guns, and in conjunction with ERPO Laws, provide a more comprehensive method of preventing dangerous people from gaining access to firearms. 

Passing such laws would also show that our national legislators can work together to get something done on this issue.  The nation needs to see success from their legislators in consensus laws on these issues. Not bills rammed through that pass with 51% votes, but with overwhelming bipartisan support. It would build trust and confidence to do more in the future.

Call, email, or write a letter to your STATE and LOCAL leaders demanding an Extreme Risk Law in your state if you do not have one.   If you do have one, demand to know how the Law is being implemented, resourced, and institutionalized.  Demand to know the status of safe storage laws in your state and what is being done to improve safety in that regard. 

Call, email, or write (particularly if you are a firearm owner) your federal Representative and Senators and tell them that you want them to pass a common sense Universal Background Check law and the Extreme Risk Protection Order and Violence Protection Act, and the School Safety Clearinghouse Act.

LONGER TERM:  Find a new consensus approach forward to reduce the likelihood of future such events; Focus on collaboration and implementation of effective solutions within the constraints of law; Create serious and expansive research efforts to understand and intervene in a society that creates broken boys and men that choose to kill children.

Our past approach has not worked - a mass shooting occurs; one political party calls for gun control; the other resists the proposals as ineffective and compromising of rights; another mass shooting; repeat.  A different approach is needed.

To my friends that call for repeal of the Second Amendment and confiscation of firearms – please reconsider.   Amending the Constitution requires a 2/3rd majority of both the House of Representatives and the Senate. They can barely pass anything with higher than 51% majorities. It must also be approved by 3/4ths of the states.  The Constitution is by design difficult to change and the likelihood of repeal of the 2nd Amendment is close to nil for the foreseeable future.

Demanding repeal of the 2nd Amendment and confiscation of firearms is counterproductive. It hardens the resistance of firearm owners and prevents any meaningful action because they perceive every inch given as a step toward confiscation.  These types of demands also cause people who do not own guns to buy them and those who do to buy more. 

Gun sale background checks set records during the Obama Administration, rising from 13 million to 27 million between 2009 and 2016.  Those records were shattered in 2020 in response to riots and diminishment of law enforcement. Background checks have not subsided since 2020, rather, they have remained at record levels since the Biden Administration took office.  Aggressive national gun control proposals have only led to sky rocketing gun sales.

To my friends that own firearms and think the only approach is to resist any change – please reconsider.   Responsibility comes with rights.  Resisting at all costs is not acceptable.  Since 1989 there have been thirteen mass shootings at schools .  With more than half of those (7) occurring in the past decade they are becoming more frequent and more deadly.  Firearm owners must participate in developing effective responses to slow and stop this carnage at our schools.  Firearm owners have a moral obligation and responsibility to lead in developing sensible and effective firearm safety policies and practices.

The focus of this blog post is mass public shootings at schools, but there is a broader issue that nearly 25,000 people in the U.S. committed suicide and 20,000 were murdered with firearms in 2020.  Over 500 died in accidents involving firearms.  This is unacceptable.  The accessibility of firearms plays a role in these deaths.   Curbing access by creating systems of background checks, eligibility restrictions on ownership, interventions to remove firearms from dangerous hands, comprehensive training requirements, and safe storage laws are not going to impinge on 2nd Amendment rights if firearms owners and their representatives work with others to create effective tools within the constraints of law.

The conversation among all concerned needs to shift from “gun control” to “firearm safety.”   Changing the conversation in this manner can allow for actions that both protect the right of the public to own firearms and reduce firearm deaths. 

All firearms are not the same and should be treated differently.  A bolt action .22 rifle or a two-chamber shotgun are a far cry from an AR-15-style semi-automatic rifle with multi-round magazines.  They should not be treated the same. Effective firearm safety policies and laws are more likely to be developed if this fact is accepted by all. 

Eligibility for purchase of firearms may vary by type of firearm purchased.  For example, an eighteen-year-old, or a person with a minor criminal background, or a person with mild and managed mental illness may be eligible to purchase a .22 caliber bolt action rifle to hunt or shoot varmints around their farm, but may not be able to buy a semi-automatic weapon or a handgun.

Requirements for purchase may also vary based on the type of firearm purchased.  In addition to a basic NISC background check for all firearms, there may be longer wait periods for semi-automatic weapons and large ammunition purchases, and additional training and storage requirements.    

I will say it again - what we have been doing is not working.  It is time to change our approach on firearms.   The first step is to acknowledge that we all want fewer deaths involving firearms.  The second is to acknowledge the differences in culture that exist in our country from region to region and state to state.   Urban and suburban people in safe communities think differently about firearms than those in rural areas or high crime neighborhoods.  These are all legitimate viewpoints.  

Trying to impose views not shared in other communities is wrong and only leads to stalemates and anger.  What is acceptable in one region or state may not be acceptable in another.  Find areas of agreement where national standards and policies make sense within the constraints of the law.  If one thinks more robust policies and standards are needed within one’s home state or community work toward that.  Lasting and substantial change comes from the consensus of a broad majority of the governed - not by edict.  

Finally, this is not all about firearms - something is very wrong in our culture that young men choose to murder children in our schools.  The overall level of violence that sees eight people killed in Chicago in a weekend, or six people killed by a man running them down at a Christmas parade is horrendous.  The suicide rate rose 30% from 2000 to 2020.  Suicide attempts among young girls rose over 50% in 2020. 

There is a mental health crisis among young people in America and it is getting worse according to the U.S. Surgeon General.   He reports that even before the Covid-19 pandemic, “up to 1 in 5 children ages 3 to 17 in the U.S. having a mental, emotional, developmental, or behavioral disorder.”  

Is it the constant presence of technology in our lives?  Is technology and social media altering the development and personalities of children?  Is it the total organization of children’s lives at the expense of initiative and imagination?  Is it the destruction of community institutions that provided guidance, guardrails, and social engagement?  Is it the rapid decline in church membership and participation since 2000?  Is America’s obsession with identity groups damaging the national identity and sense of belonging?  Is it the prescribing of psychotropic drugs to 10% of our children? Is it the breakdown of the family?   

I do not have the answers, but I know we need to get serious about asking the questions, begin an open national discussion, and demand that our government fund the study of these issues to support that discussion.

Call, email, or write your federal Representative and Senators and tell them how you feel about the need to shift the discussion from “gun control” to “gun safety” and your desires for action around issues of culture and cohesion in our country. 


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