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Our Culture and the Active Shooter Dilemma – Part 1

In the wake of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School mass shooting in Parkland, Florida, I’m sure most are in disbelief and wondering why mass shootings are still an issue. As a professional in this field, I’m reminded of the first recorded mass shooting, which took place on September 5, 1949. Army veteran, Howard Unruh, gunned down 13 people while walking around his neighborhood, killing at random for perceived slights. After his arrest and court hearing, he was declared criminally insane and committed to an asylum. A somewhat forgotten man (outside threat assessment pros), Unruh was the first chapter in the tragic, all-too-familiar, American story of an angry man with a gun inflicting carnage. Others who committed the same egregious acts had their “reasons” for taking their anger out on society. We hear of the out-of-work parent, the disgruntled employee, the bullied student, the conflicted lover, who also killed for “sport.” I question why some who are in the same situation don’t react with violence and why some do. My question is: Why are we still facing these tragedies?

This mass shooting in Florida hit our country hard and I’m sitting here scratching my head and searching for the answer to the why. Is there a way to eliminate these tragedies altogether? I don’t think so; however, at the very least, I believe we can reduce the frequency significantly. The answer is to start. Start somewhere. Do I agree with abolishing the Second Amendment? No. Will it help if owning a firearm became illegal? No. Will abolishment of firearms eliminate unnecessary loss of life to mass shootings? No.

Here’s my reasoning and stay with me for a minute. Let’s look at the drug issue. Heroin is illegal, but people still buy it, sell it, and die from it. Whether people die from overdoses or from acts surrounding the buying and selling of illegal drugs, the death toll related to use/sale/purchasing illegal drugs in 2016 rose to roughly 64,000; a 19% rise from 2015. That is a lot of unnecessary deaths from something that is supposed to be illegal.

On this divisive topic of gun control, I believe we should review the state and federal law on the purchasing, possessing, and carrying of various types of weapons. The Second Amendment, as upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court, is not going to change. My advice is to let that argument go and focus on what can be controlled.

As a retired police officer, I carry a weapon everywhere I go. I don’t necessarily believe every average citizen should have the same privilege to carry a concealed weapon. First, let’s be honest here and agree we know someone who shouldn’t handle a toy gun, let alone a real gun. Currently, there is no way to thoroughly vet everyone who purchases a weapon and so-called bad people fall through cracks; paperwork gets lost; humans make errors in processes.

My next reason why care in considering the average citizen should not be easily granted the ability to carry a concealed weapon is around training, whether it’s our Second Amendment right or not. If police officers make mistakes, men and women who are required to attend countless hours of training, who’s to say the average person will be conscientious and disciplined and seek continuous training workshops. I say they won’t.

Then there is the issue of mental health. I regularly attend the annual conference of the Association of Threat Assessment Professionals (ATAP), and was pleased to see progress in law enforcement, mental health professionals, and the private sector working together. They partner through continuous education, training, and networking. The training has come a long way since my 1983 police academy and field-training days of dealing with mental health subjects, what were known to us as emotionally disturbed persons (EDP).

To me, the emotional/mental component is the most important part to consider when answering my questions. Here’s what I believe is inherent to the nature of human beings: Everyone wants to be loved. Everyone wants to be needed. Everyone wants to be heard. Everyone wants to matter to someone else. Mentally fit or unfit, it is human nature to want validation. It is the mentally unstable with whom we’re dealing with and only progress will be made if mental health professionals, law enforcement, and the private sector work in conjunction toward a solution.

Emotional validation is the process of learning about, understanding, and expressing acceptance of another person’s emotional experience. Emotional validation is distinguished from emotional invalidation, in which another person’s emotional experiences are rejected, ignored, or judged.

In my experience, one key in learning how to validate others’ emotions is to realize that validating an emotion doesn’t mean you agree with the other person or that you think their emotional response is warranted. Rather, you communicate to them you understand what they are feeling, without trying to talk them out of the feeling or shame them for the feeling.
Taking these learnings, let’s look at the shooting suspect in Florida, Nikolas Cruz. He, obviously, was a troubled soul. Cruz was screaming for help outside the walls of his house, especially when we learn he made disturbing social media posts, there were documented calls for service by the local police department to his residence, as well as questionable actions and comments Cruz made at school or in the presence of others. The signs were clearly there long before this latest tragedy, and the citizens of our country were impacted once again by a crazed gunman, leading to a horrific and tragic outcome.

I look at this whole incident in outrage. Not only were red flags raised all over the place, but the victims, and the shooter himself, were failed. By whom? By our government agencies, by the local police department, by mental health professionals. The same red flags that were ignored when it came to Nikolas Cruz were present and ignored when it came to Elliott Rodger who killed six people and injured 14 in Santa Barbara in 2014; and in 2007 when the Virginia Tech student, Seung-Hui Cho, went on a rampage; and in the 2012 Aurora Theater shooting by 24-year-old James Holmes. Sadly, I could go on and on.

Having worked closely with Dr. Reid Meloy, a forensic psychologist in San Diego, who consults on threat assessments for schools and corporations; I am privileged to get a closer look at the psyche of a crazed gunman. Dr. Meloy has written numerous articles on mass murder trending and explained there was a way to reduce the epidemic of mass shootings. Dr. Meloy has outlined a three-pronged approach to address this epidemic and in our next post we will discuss how to take his point of view, add my opinion to it, and come up with a viable solution to stem the tide of this unnecessary carnage.

Click here to read part two of the article


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