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By Dr. Jarrod Sadulski, Faculty Member, Criminal Justice, American Military University
Mass shooting events are among the most dangerous threats we face and the number of deadly incidents seems to be rising.
The unpredictability of mass shootings makes them particularly dangerous because a shooter is often able to fire many shots before being subdued. Last year saw the most mass shooting events since 2014; there were more mass shootings in 2019 than there were days in the year.
Gun violence in 2019 was particularly prevalent, with 15,381 gun deaths and 29,568 injuries.
Gun Violence Archive Found 417 Mass Shooting Events in the US in 2019
Gun Violence Archive, a nonprofit organization that tracks mass shootings in the U.S., in 2019 tallied 417 mass shootings, which are defined as incidents when at least four people are shot, not counting the shooter.
In order to address the threat of mass shootings, it is important to understand the trends that could provide some explanation for these deadly incidents. Such an understanding could enable law enforcement and communities to intervene even before a mass shooting incident occurs.
The Los Angeles Times, based on a project funded by the National Institute of Justice, conducted a two-year study of the life histories of mass shooters. The study’s initial finding was that most mass shooters experienced some form of early childhood trauma. They were exposed to violence such as physical or other forms of abuse, neglect, or severe bullying at a young age. The trauma as a child may have resulted in mass shooters having mental health problems later. The study also found that almost every mass shooter had a significant breakdown or crisis in the weeks or months leading to the mass shooting incident. Triggers for the trauma included as loss of something valued, which is consistent with Agnew’s General Strain Theory.
Mass Shooters Often Study Previous Mass Shootings, Raising Concern of Copycat Incidents
Another characteristic of mass shooters is that they often study previous mass shootings, which raises concern of copycat incidents. Thus, mass shooters may be motivated by previous such shooting incidents. Another finding was that mass shooters had the means to carry out their attack.
These last two factors can be used to identify someone who might be at risk of carrying out a mass shooting incident. Family members or friends who observe someone becoming sympathetic to a mass shooter or displays a deviant ideology should report that person to the police and perhaps intervene before a deadly incident occurs.
In addition, police should also be notified when someone appears to be suffering from mental illness and is stockpiling large quantities of ammunition and weapons.
Personal Response to an Active Shooter
Unfortunately, a mass shooting incident can occur anytime where a crowd gathers. As we’ve seen all too often, churches, concerts, and schools are not immune to this consistent threat. While out in public, it is important to remain vigilant of your surroundings. Suspicious behavior could include someone wearing baggy, over-sized clothes inconsistent with the season, such as wearing a large overcoat when it is summer. Another red flag is someone attempting to gain access to a facility or an area where that person doesn’t belong.
Citizens can take steps to lessen the chances of becoming victims by taking active shooter training and accessing authoritative resources. One good resource available to the public through the Department of Homeland Security is the How to Respond Guide to Active Shooter Guide. Another good option is to sign up for local emergency alerts and to make a family plan to ensure that everyone knows what to do in an active shooter scenario.
When in a large crowd in a public place, identify the two nearest exits and figure out an escape path. In an active shooter situation, the first step should be to run to escape. If you can get away, call 911 and report the description of the shooter, his exact location, his weapons, and what he is wearing. It is also best to warn others to avoid the area.
If Escape from an Active Shooter Situation Is Not Possible, the Next Best Option Is to Hide
If escape is not possible, hiding is the next best option, so it is important to understand the difference between cover and concealment, and to seek cover if possible. Cover is where you can hide that will stop a bullet; concealment is where you can hide and the shooter won’t see you but the location probably will not stop a bullet. It is also essential to silence your cell phone so it does not ring and give away your hiding spot. If you’re hiding in a room, block the doors with any large objects available, close the blinds or shades, and turn off lights and anything that would indicate your presence in the room.
The shooter is often working quickly to inflict as much devastation as possible. So making yourself a more difficult target and avoiding panicking could save your life.
If you are hiding during an active shooter situation, it is best to communicate your location to police as silently as possible. Many police departments can communicate with dispatch via text. If your police department has this service, enter the dispatch number in advance of any trouble. And remain in place until law enforcement instructs you otherwise.
The last resort in an active shooter situation is to fight. If you are with a group, quickly evaluate the strengths and skills of everyone and work together. The goal is to remove the weapon from the active shooter by any means possible, including using makeshift weapons such as fire extinguishers, glass bottles, or chairs.
Remember, mass shootings can occur at any time. Reporting suspicious behavior and having a plan can mean the difference between life and death.
About the Author: Dr. Jarrod Sadulski has been involved in homeland security for over two decades and he is an associate professor at American Military University. He has engaged in speaking engagements in the United States, Europe, and Central America on topics such as local police response to domestic terrorism, human trafficking, and narcotics trafficking. Most recently, he presented at the 2019 International Human Trafficking Conference. His expertise includes infrastructure security, maritime security, homeland security contraband interdiction and intelligence gathering. Jarrod was selected as the Coast Guard’s Reserve McShan Inspirational Leadership Award recipient for 2019. To contact the author, email IPSauthor@apus.edu. For more articles featuring insight from industry experts, subscribe to In Public Safety’s bi-monthly newsletter.