A mass shooter has taken Texan lives yet again. It’s past time for us to take action. But how?
That’s the question that has been on many people’s minds this week. After gunmen killed more than 30 people in El Paso and in Dayton, Ohio within less than 24 hours last weekend, debate swirled over effective legislative responses.
It’s every citizen’s right to call their legislators and tell them what they’d like to see changed. But in this editorial, we’re focusing on measures regular folks can take right now to protect their safety.
In the past, we’ve emphasized the value of learning how best to respond if the worst were to happen. Both the Huntsville Police Department, the Walker County Sheriff’s Office and the Texas Department of Public Safety have local personnel trained to teach the “Civilian Response to Active Shooter Events” program developed by Advanced Law Enforcement Rapid Response Training at Texas State University. Based in part on police research in the wake of the Columbine High School massacre in 1999, the program teaches regular Joes what works and what doesn’t in mass shooting situations. We encourage you to attend these training sessions when they are available and to push businesses or organizations you’re involved in to consider hosting such training, whether for employees or for the public at large. It’s important to take advantage of the understanding that law enforcement has built in order to save lives — it could someday be your own.
You can also learn what experts have found out about the people who commit mass shootings, in order to head off any tragedies before they even happen.
Researchers spent two years studying every mass shooting since 1966 in which at least four people died, and their research uncovered four things many shooters had in common. Most shooters, they found, had been traumatized and exposed to violence as young children; they had reached an obvious crisis point in the weeks or months before the shooting, such as losing their job or being rejected in a relationship; they had used other mass shootings to validate their motives for committing one; and they had access to guns, whether ones they owned or ones they obtained illegally, researchers Jillian Peterson and James Densley wrote in an op-ed published in the Los Angeles Times.
These findings come as no surprise. Other research has shown that those who are buying the most guns — the 3% of the population who own half the firearms in the U.S. — are a certain subgroup of white men who are worried they won’t be able to protect or provide for their families and are plagued by racial fears. These men are less educated than average and are not religious. To them, a gun is not just a tool, but “feels like a force for order in a chaotic world,” a writer for Scientific American noted last year; it becomes a source of meaning and a way to cope emotionally. It bears noting that while most of these men still do not become mass shooters, they often turn the gun on themselves. As a result, 70 percent of suicide deaths are of white men.
So what do you do based on these findings? You look out for your neighbors. Show them a gun is a tool that is supposed to be handled with extreme care and respect for its lethality. Demonstrate good ways to find a sense of meaning in life. Learn to recognize the signs of a crisis and intervene before it becomes deadly, whether to the person in crisis or to those around them. If someone you know is starting to grow disconnected, reach out and pull them back into community — tell them, don’t ask, that they’re coming with you to a social event, a church service or just out to dinner.
In particular, if someone tells you they’re having suicidal thoughts, call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255 (1-888-628-9454 for the Spanish hotline). And if they mention thoughts of harming others, inform police as soon as you can; you can call 911 or use the HPD’s non-emergency number at 936-291-5480. Save these numbers in your phone in case you ever need them.
Insist that the people around you let you help them and if necessary, exercise tough love. It could be their life, or yours, that you save.