Politics

Part of the Problem

It’s obvious by now. We have a problem. Since 2015, we’ve lost more children to school shootings than we’ve lost soldiers to war.

We’ve gone an entire calendar month without a child being shot in school one time in the last 42 months. 

We’ve had at least 10 American children shot every month since last August.

It’s true, not all have been fatal. If it were half or a third or even a tenth, it would still be a problem worth solving. If you’re compelled to knit pick the data, you’re part of the problem.

There was a time in my life where it was my job to stop terrorist attacks. There’s rarely a silver bullet. Silver bullet arguments are for cable news and Twitter. Solving hard problems takes a comprehensive approach; an understanding that there are multiple parts of any systemic problem. Stopping terrorist acts is complicated business.

In case you’re confused, that’s what school shootings are.

Terrorism.

They’re sensational acts of violence with a goal of inflicting mass casualties and attracting media attention to cause fear. If you care a bunch about whether or not school shootings are called terrorism, then it’s likely that politics plays too big a role in this for you. And that’s part of the problem.

These shootings are often carried out by people with mental health issues. When we pealed back the onion on the folks blowing themselves up in markets in Iraq, those folks weren’t particularly rational either. Hurt people hurt people. That’s part of the problem.

Access to adequate mental health care in America isn’t easy. I know. My wife and I started a non-profit to give it away for free to parents of special needs kids. Because we found it was too hard to get any other way. And that’s part of the problem.

The most effective of these shootings are carried out by assault rifles, specifically the AR-15, which is, for most purposes, the same rifle that I carried in Iraq. In searching for how many AR-15s have been sold in America, I couldn’t find it from a reputable source. Because we are ignorant of gun statistics and information, in an institutional sense, in a way that it takes intentionality in 2018.

With a single Google search I can tell you that the most popular breakfast cereal in America is Cheerios. And that Americans spent over 900 million dollars more on Cheerios than they did on Trix last year.

That data was provided by the people that sold them.

I can’t tell you how many AR-15s were sold in America last year. Not from an institutional source. And that’s part of the problem.

Men and boys with histories of violence are shooting children in schools. The pattern is tight. It’s happened enough that we could develop a clean profile and some level of predictive analytics about who is or is not at risk for committing gun violence. Tragically, we reached the volume of statistical significance a long time ago.

The right rail on my Facebook feed knows what I’m about to click because it uses an algorithm that takes my observed behavior and predicts my next actions. It gets smarter every second. It makes billions of dollars.

We have no federally funded program to study anything, data or otherwise, related to the impacts of guns on public safety. And that’s part of the problem.

If the notion of data collection and predictive analytics for gun ownership steps on a liberty land mine for you, then that’s part of the problem.

Every mass shooting gets millions upon millions of dollars of media attention. Everyone knows the name of the perpetrator within 24 hours of the event. That’s part of the problem.

The NRA spends millions of dollars advocating for strict adherence to the Second Amendment. If they went away tomorrow, we wouldn’t get gun control legislation. Because the NRA isn’t the problem. There’s a culture war where threatened men who have seen their standing and privilege in America decreased slightly over the last two generations are binding the last bastion of American identity to a gun. That’s part of the problem.

We believe our schools are supposed to be sanctuaries of learning where the presence of security measures or armed guards are inappropriate. As the son of two inner city school teachers, it breaks my heart to say it. But that’s part of the problem.

We could go on and on and on about the parts of the problem that we have and probably not get to all of them.

Right now, those we surrender some level of our personal liberties and power to, our elected representatives, are shouting two things at each other. Prayers. And Gun control. No comprehensive solutions. And that’s part of the problem.

If we want school shootings to stop, there’s one approach. A collective agreement that for some period of time, we are going to have to do whatever it takes to stop it cold.

I was a part of the team responsible for the disruption of insurgent networks in Iraq  during the 2010 elections. It’s not lost on me that what I’m about to say, comparing the task of keeping polling stations in Iraq safe from terrorists to the safety of 21 century American schools, is a tragedy in and of itself.

But that’s where we are. We’re in crisis. And it needs to end.

And the answer is saying immediately, that no school shooting happens ever again. We find what it takes to get to zero for long enough for it to stop being a “thing” and then dial it back.

That’s how this works when you want to stop a crisis.

Which means we’re going to have to get comfortable with a few things.

Our schools probably need to look more like airports for a while. We surrender some level of unfettered access to guns. We agree that maybe 88 per 100 Americans is probably too many to reasonably keep them from those who should not have them. We are comfortable with reduced or eliminated access to assault rifles. There is extensive data collection, research and technology investment in the impacts of firearms on public safety. Access to mental health care is increased. We conceal the names of perpetrators the way we conceal the names of victims or children in the media.

That’s a start. And one other thing.

We trust that we are going to surrender some control to our government in order to stop this.

And we hold those defined as accountable, those we’ve elected to run our government, accountable to take action. Not words or prayers. Action.

In 8 months, if you’re representative is up for election, and they do not support a comprehensive plan to stop school shootings that includes all of the above, then they don’t get your vote.

If we’re not willing to do that. Then we’re fine with our children being shot in schools.

And that’s part of the problem.

10 replies »

  1. Your essays are so well written. I don’t comment every time but I want you to know I really appreciate what you have to say. Thank you.

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  2. If you’re advocating for essentially a new batch of congressional representatives, then I’m all in. That said, I am not convinced that this is an issue that can be fixed on the grounds of legislation alone. Our current system has proven inept at assessing these issues let alone fixing them. How do we legislate a systemic change that needs to start at the roots of our societal fabric? As a veteran as well, I have heard many propose to put armed guards/vets in every school. And while you briefly discuss the possibility of a pseudo moratorium that imposes strict security zone around school, we both now that this is not a working permanent solution. Placing guards at schools minimizes an active shooter in the immediate sense but it does nothing to target the bigger issue. The underlying conditions (e.g. mental, emotional, & physical states) that brought the would-be shooter to this point in the first place. Our society must want to change. We must want this to end. We must stop relying on some elected official to do it for us. We must believe in the value of life ourselves. We must put our own blood, sweat, and tears into this. I am a proponent for more organizations like Teach 1 Lead 1. I’m even a proponent for veterans/law enforcement in schools but as a non-armed component. They can just be there. As the big brothers and sisters that our children often need. More eyes to help the faculty so they can focus on what their actual job is, which is to prepare our failing youth for the work forces and/or higher education. I am curious of your thoughts. This is a problem that requires more than one simple fix. We must be in this for the long haul, beyond when the media cycle of the events end.

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  3. Sean, well done. I often disagree with your columns, but you are spot on on this one re the multiple, deep-seated roots of the problem. But Congress can’t fix it, regardless of whom we elect next time. They can help, but major change is needed on a personal and societal level.

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  4. Peter Drucker is attributed with the quote “Culture eats strategy for breakfast”. We can turn our schools into war zones as a strategy but what about shopping malls and churches and parks? As long as some Americans have their identity, hope, and purpose tied up with guns, the pathology of the few who shoot to watch someone die will prevail. As long as we put weapons of war in the hands of the enraged and impulsive a “good guy with a gun” won’t make a bit of difference.

    So, yes. Increase school security … we have no choice
    But, also, as you point out, we need to measure and report out data for policymakers to make informed decisions.

    And, we need to figure out how to balance numerous, yet incongruous, well-intentioned rules, such as; one based upon a 21st-century rule that on one hand prevents a 19-year-old from buying a beer with an 18th-century rule “… the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”

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  5. Best line I’ve read about this issue anywhere: There’s a culture war where threatened men who have seen their standing and privilege in America decreased slightly over the last two generations are binding the last bastion of American identity to a gun. That’s part of the problem.

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  6. TSA for schools? What else are you selling here? Dept. of Pre-crime? Will they be better than the FBI (2016 annual budget 8.7 billion)? Here’s a few more questions for all you big fans of these proposals: How would Federal run metal detectors/full body scans/random physical frisking of your children aka airport security on school grounds prevent anyone from shooting up a school? Or a movie theater? Or an outdoor concert near an elevated position? Given that all the rifles, magazines, rounds of ammunition already exist, what good would surrendering constitutional rights for a while do (or are your seriously recommending confiscation/prohibition)? Would everyone’s good feelings about their newfound safety make all those existing guns disappear? And since this is ostensibly about preventing terrorism, will they make all the pressure cooker bombs and the box trucks disappear as well? You’re probably right, American psychos aren’t that creative. If they can’t get a gun, they’ll probably just normal themselves right up, right as rain, lickety-split. Hey, maybe there’s a chance, and, hey, it’s for the kids, so let’s do it! Lock down the schools and turn those swords into plowshares, all around! Last one, what’s it like living in Fantasy Land?

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  7. A VERY INTERESTING ARTICLE SOME OF WHICH AGREE WITH THE REPORTER AND SOME OF WHICH I DON’T AGREE WITH WHICH IS LIKE MOST PROBLEMS WE HAVE TWO OR THREE SIDES TO THE STORY AND PROBLEMS BUT BACK TO THE IDEA OF PUTTING ARMGUARDS IN THE SCHOOL NO I DON’T THINK THIS IS A FINALE SOULITION TO THE PROBLEM BUT A TEMP ONE UNTIL WE GET THE MENTAL PROBLEM SOLVE WHICH IS NOT GOING TO BE A VERY EASY SOLUTION AND MAY TAK A VERY LONG TIME CAUSE PEOPLE DON’T SEE THE PROBLEM UNTILL SOMETHING LIKE THIS HAPPENS AND THEN NOT EVERY BODY WILL SEE THE PROBLEM WITH THE PERSON SO IT MAY TAKE A LONG TIME. AND SEEING A BUNCH OF DOCS ISN’T GOING TO HELP CAUSE I SPEAK FROM EXPERIENCE THEY DON’T EVEN SEE THE PROBLEM EITHER.
    SO IF SOME ONE COULD COME UP WITH A SOLUTION PLEASE BRING IT FOWARD .
    OH ONE THING I DISAGREE WITH THE WRITER EVEN IF HE IS A VET THE AR15 IS NOT AN ASSULT RIFLE LIKE THE ONES U USE AND I DID DURING THE VIET NAM WARS THEY ARE FULL AUTO AND NOT SIMI AUTO
    .

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