Many signs we pass tell us to take heed as trouble may lie ahead. These signs of caution like: “Be Prepared to Stop - Deer Crossing - Road May Flood” are intended to raise red flags in our minds to prepare to take action. These three signs, may each prompt some type of action ranging from increased alertness of when we may need to apply the brakes - to reducing our speed and increasing our vigilance for movement across the road - to thinking about alternative routes should the road ahead become impassable.
So are there signs that can warn us of a mass shooting?
Some work has been done in this area by the United States Secret Service National Threat Assessment Center. Their report entitled: Mass Attacks In Public Spaces, published in August 2020, concluded that: “All available data indicates that these acts of violence are rarely spontaneous and are almost always preceded by warning signs, thereby offering opportunities for prevention.” By recognizing the warning signs, parents, friends, teachers, counselors, and anyone else that interacts with someone exhibiting such signs can help identify and better yet stop them from continuing on their pathway to violence.
Why then aren’t we taking preventative actions, when we see a sign warning “Be Prepared to Run” or “Haters Coming” or “Mass Shooter Ahead”?
Shouldn’t these signs trigger some type of action? How about reducing the heated rhetoric and increasing our vigilance? I know – I know, people whose livelihoods depend on votes will argue you can’t do this and you can’t do that. So how about we start thinking about alternative solutions should the ones proposed prove to be impassable?
I think that the answer lies in the collection and analysis of the data from prior events. The highway warning signs were placed there based on certain data from records showing that the dangerous conditions being warned of have occurred enough times in those areas so as to reasonably infer that they would probably recur there in the foreseeable future.
Warning signs can be simply cautionary in nature indicating what may happen in the immediate or long-term future - not necessarily what will happen. Most days the conditions that highway signs warn us of never come to pass. The day we ignore them may well be the day that danger lurks.
Speaking of data from prior events, preliminary reports indicate that the shooters in Buffalo and in Uvalde may have exhibited warning signs in terms of intent and the methods, means, and opportunities for violence which had elements in common with other mass shooters in the past.
So why the hell, do we ignore the repeated warning signs that innocent people may be at risk of being cut down in a hail of bullets by a gun-wielding killer as they attend school, church services, or shop for groceries?
I do believe that, with leadership and the public’s trust we can identify statistically significant warning signs for identifying mass shooters to seize - as the Secret Service indicates - opportunities for the prevention of the type of tragedies we have seen in so many cities across our nation.
Such opportunities to remove one from their pathway to violence will most likely depend upon the vigilance of many people – parents -teachers – classmates – counselors - neighbors - police officers - etc.
Moreover, they will depend upon the courage of conviction to take action and follow through rather than deny and minimize the apparent warning signs.
We hold people who yell fire in a crowded theater and who make bomb threats in airports accountable for their words. Why not hold people who spew hate and threaten violence in public forums both real and virtual and who acknowledge and show us that they have the means to do it accountable in some way?
Maybe accountability manifests itself in a simple interview or a referral for psychological counseling, or perhaps it’s a court order for the temporary safekeeping of firearms or - if the proper elements are met – an alert in the National Instant Criminal Background System that a person is prohibited from acquiring and possessing firearms.
There must be a way to balance the signs and indicators of mass violence we would look for and actions we would take with due process and respect for our constitutional rights. Come on, if we can figure out how to explore the outer limits of our universe to witness the “big bang” - there must be a way to do this.
The bottom line is that in most mass shootings there were advance signs - there are always signs - the problem is that it’s too easy to deny them as nothing more than youthful misguided exuberance - too easy to not get involved – too easy to leave it to someone else.
The next thing we know there is a mass shooting by someone and the signs that we saw and ignored suddenly become validated - but alas too late.
Nobody is going to die if we take preventative action to deny a person the means and opportunity to kill because we saw and acted upon credible signs and we are proved wrong - the only risk we run is when we don't take preventative actions to stop them when we are right.
Then somebody’s gonna die!