The real risks of another, and after, Parkland

David Ropeik:

The first recorded school shooting in the United States took place in 1840, when a law student shot and killed his professor at the University of Virginia. But the modern fear dawned on April 20, 1999, when Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris killed 12 classmates and a teacher, and then themselves, at Colorado’s Columbine High. Since then, the murder of children in their classrooms has come to seem common, a regular feature of modern American life, and our fears so strong that we are certain the next horror is sure to come not long after the last.

The Education Department reports that  roughly 50 million children attend public schools for roughly 180 days per year. Since Columbine, approximately 200 public school students have been shot to death while school was in session, including the recent slaughter at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla. (and a shooting in Birmingham, Ala., on Wednesday that police called accidental that left one student dead). That means the statistical likelihood of any given public school student being killed by a gun, in school, on any given day since 1999 was roughly 1 in 614,000,000. And since the 1990s, shootings at schools have been getting less common.

The chance of a child being shot and killed in a public school is extraordinarily low. Not zero — no risk is. But it’s far lower than many people assume, especially in the glare of heart-wrenching news coverage after an event like Parkland. And it’s far lower than almost any other mortality risk a kid faces, including traveling to and from school, catching a potentially deadly disease while in school or suffering a life-threatening injury playing interscholastic sports.

We sometimes seek protection from our fears in ways that put us in greater peril. In responding to the Parkland shooting, we may be doing just that to our kids.

Statistics seem cold and irrelevant compared with how the evil of a school shooting makes us feel. The victims are children, and research on the psychology of risk has found that few risks worry us more than threats to kids. Parents who send their precious children to school each morning are relinquishing control over their safety; that same research has found that lack of control makes any risk feel more threatening. The parents at Columbine and Sandy Hook and Stoneman Douglas placed their faith in the school systems, trust that was cruelly violated — and mistrust fuels fear, too, for the parents and all of us.

We don’t really think about risk in terms of 1 in 10, or 1 in 100, or 1 in 1 million in the first place. And when we do see such numbers, the only thing we think is, “My kid could be the one,” so even the tiniest risk appears unacceptably high. That powerful combination of psychological characteristics moots any suggestion that fear of a certain risk is irrationally excessive. Numerically, maybe. Emotionally, not at all.

That’s the thing about risk. We assess it less on the likelihood of the outcome and more on the emotional nature of the experience involved in getting to that outcome. The probability of dying doesn’t matter as much as the way you die. That’s why the infinitesimally low risk of being eaten by a shark scares millions of people out of the ocean, and why vanishingly rare plane crashes scare travelers into their cars and trucks (a statistically riskier way to get around). School shootings also trigger powerful emotions that swamp the odds.

And the more frightening a risk feels to you and me, the more coverage it usually gets in the news media, which focuses on things most likely to get our attention. Rare events with high emotional valence often get coverage disproportionate to their likelihood, further magnifying our fears. As a result of what the cognitive sciences call “the awareness heuristic” — a mental shortcut we use to quickly assess the likely frequency of things we don’t know much about — the more readily an event leaps to mind from our memory, or the more persistently it’s in the news, the more emotionally powerful and probable it feels. School shootings and the debate about gun control are prime examples. A threat feels more threatening if it’s getting a lot of attention.   …

Fear also leads us to do things in pursuit of safety that may do more harm than what we’re afraid of in the first place. Think about the psychological effects on kids from all those lessons about when to run, how to hide, directions from their parents to call home if a shooting occurs. A few children have even brought guns to school, saying they wanted to protect their classmates . What happens to children’s ability to learn if they spend their time in the classroom wondering, even if only occasionally, who’s going to burst in and open fire? What does the chronic stress of such worry do to their health? What do constant messages of potential danger in a place that’s supposed to be safe do to their sense of security in the world? Across the population of public school children in the United States, fear of this extraordinarily rare risk is almost certainly doing far more overall harm than have the shootings themselves, horrendous as they are.

Robby Soave might argue we’re already at maximum worrywarting:

Students across the country plan[ned] to walk out of class at 10:00 a.m. [Wednesday] to protest the government’s failure to prevent crimes like the massacre at Parkland by tightening gun laws.

In doing so, the students are providing more evidence that increased safety is indeed the paramount goal of modern millennial and Gen Z political activism. They want to feel comfortable and protected, and they are willing to curtail other people’s rights to achieve this.

“It’s not Republican or Democrat; it’s about keeping people safe,” Arielle Geismar, a 16-year-old student from Manhattan, toldVox. “We know what we want from our society: to have less guns and, at some point, no guns at all.”

Perhaps ironically, the administrators at Geismar’s school also cited public safety as their top concern, and used it to justify their reticence about the planned walkout:

Arielle Geismar, a 16-year-old junior at the Beacon School in Manhattan, said her school administrators were primarily focused on student safety. “There definitely was pushback in terms of disrupting classes,” she said. “But we’re going to be loud, and we’re not going to apologize for that. I think that’s also the point of the walkout. We’re going to make ourselves heard whether you want to hear it or not.”

Of course Geismar and her fellow activists shouldn’t apologize for making themselves heard, being loud, or walking out of class. Nor should their First Amendment rights be curtailed because some overly cautious administrators are concerned about safety. Public safety is frequently used as a pretext for trampling the civil rights of some group or another. Think of racist stop-and-frisk policies, the anti-Muslim bigotry of domestic War on Terror paranoia, or the immigrant purges of the Trump era. Such measures are often justified on grounds of safety, security, and comfort.

Young people would therefore be justified in treating any safety-related abridgments of their rights with skepticism. Yet this post-Parkland student activism seems grounded in the exact same thinking: that we should sacrifice the rights of one group—gun owners—in order to make everybody else feel safer.

Whether doing this would actually make anyone safer is of course the subject of considerable policy debate. But just feeling safe is incredibly important to the current crop of high school and college students, who came of age during a time of increasingly paranoid parenting and hypersensitivity toward harm. Students certainly do deserve literal safety from violence. In many ways, they already do: Schools are safer than they used to be, and mass shootings are no more common. Unfortunately, these actual, dramatic social gains might seem counterintuitive to kids who live at a time of constant media coverage of murder, terror, and death. And the right caters to these fears by pushing airport-style security, more cops in schools, and metal detectors as reasonable solutions to school shootings, even though there’s little reason to believe these ideas work.

One of the main goals of this movement is to raise the legal age to purchase an AR-15 from 18 to 21, so these young activists are sometimes clearly willing to impose limits on their own freedoms as well as other people’s. Whatever you think of the gun issue, there’s reason to be concerned about just how much freedom the fragile generation would happily give away in order to feel safer—even when they’re getting safer already.

If today’s children favor safety over freedom, their parents have failed them.



When protesters are wrong

Richard Kelsey has nothing good to say about yesterday’s National Walkout Day walker-outers:

If your child has cut class today to join a left-wing national walkout movement in protest of the Bill of Rights, you have failed as a parent.  You are either Constitutionally ignorant or you are a partisan zealot who has misinformed the same kid you can’t trust to make his or her bed.

Most American adults are so misinformed about the Constitution, it is frightening. Now, we are to believe their kids are the policy wonks and Bill of Rights experts this country has been missing for a few hundred years.

The only net positive about the walkout today is that in many areas, kids are leaving failed government schools that ration to them misinformation. Gleeful parents are posting on social media their pride for their kids standing up to be heard.

Here’s a surprise … I might think the kids silly and the parents stupid, but I do support the right of people to be silly and stupid. That doesn’t mean I support the right of kids to break the rules.  Nor do I support school districts improperly endorsing an anti-Bill of Rights protest by letting kids off the hook for cutting class.

It means that if protesting your own Second Amendment, Bill of Rights is so important to you, then I support you doing it.  And, I support the schools enforcing their disciplinary rules against every student.

Yes … this should go on your permanent record.

The best lesson of the day isn’t that Americans are ill-informed about the Second Amendment and the causes of gun violence by broken humans raised in broken homes generated by a decaying, left-wing society. The best lesson is that actions have consequences.

If you want to “make a stand,” and “stick it to the man,” then your stand is meaningless if no price is to be paid.

Government schools have no right to endorse or excuse kids engaged in political dissent that breaks the rules, no matter the popularity of the event. Indeed, public schools have an obligation to enforce their rules scrupulously without regard to the political message or intent.

You think this is harsh? You probably think the Second Amendment is for the police and military too.  My guess is, like your kids in the street, you are wholly ignorant of the Second Amendment and you have bought into the myths and false explanations of it.

Inform yourselves. While you are at it, inform your kids. Someone must since they cut school today.

America … the enemy of your children is you. An uninformed populace incapable of critical thought, desperate to cede to the government its most important fundamental right, is a danger to liberty and the civil society.

If you want to stop mass shootings and gun violence, raise kids in stable, educated, loving homes with two compassionate, informed, unselfish parents.

Guns don’t have anger issues, mental health issues, suicidal tendencies, psychotic breaks, or sociopathic tendencies … people do.  And they grow worse in a decaying culture of immorality, indecency, divorce, and fatherlessness.

Get out and protest the culture you built.

On root causes

Maybe instead of protesting the deaths of 17 in Parkland, Fla. (as if someone actually favors killing high school students and staff) today or the method of their deaths (as if someone bent on killing someone wouldn’t come up with another method were guns to magically disappear), perhaps today should be taken up thinking about this:

On a related theme:


A better choice than walking out

Kelly Guest:

Instead of walking out of school on March 14, encourage students to walk up – walk up to the kid who sits a lone at lunch and invite him to sit with your group; walk up to the kid who sits quietly in the corner of the room and sit next to her, smile and say Hi; walk up to the kid who causes disturbances in class and ask how he is doing; walk up to your teachers and thank them; walk up to someone who has different views than you and get to know them – you may be surprised at how much you have in common. Build on that foundation instead of casting stones. I challenge students to find 14 students and 3 adults to walk up to on March 14 and say something nice in honor of those who died in FL. But you can start practicing now! #walkupnotout


The other side of mass shootings

Walter Williams makes a provocative observation:

A liberal-created failure that goes entirely ignored is the left’s harmful agenda for society’s most vulnerable people—the mentally ill.

Eastern State Hospital, built in 1773 in Williamsburg, Virginia, was the first public hospital in America for the care and treatment of the mentally ill. Many more followed. Much of the motivation to build more mental institutions was to provide a remedy for the maltreatment of mentally ill people in our prisons.

According to professor William Gronfein at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis, by 1955 there were nearly 560,000 patients housed in state mental institutions across the nation. By 1977, the population of mental institutions had dropped to about 160,000 patients.

Starting in the 1970s, advocates for closing mental hospitals argued that because of the availability of new psychotropic drugs, people with mental illness could live among the rest of the population in an unrestrained natural setting.

According to a 2013 Wall Street Journal article by Dr. E. Fuller Torrey, founder of the Treatment Advocacy Center, titled “Fifty Years of Failing America’s Mentally Ill,” shutting down mental hospitals didn’t turn out the way advocates promised.

Several studies summarized by the Treatment Advocacy Center show that untreated mentally ill are responsible for 10 percent of homicides (and a higher percentage of the mass killings). They are 20 percent of jail and prison inmates and more than 30 percent of the homeless.

We often encounter these severely mentally ill individuals camped out in libraries, parks, hospital emergency rooms, and train stations, and sleeping in cardboard boxes. They annoy passersby with their sometimes intimidating panhandling.

The disgusting quality of life of many of the mentally ill makes a mockery of the lofty predictions made by the advocates of shutting down mental institutions and transferring their function to community mental health centers, or CMHCs.

Torrey writes:

The evidence is overwhelming that this federal experiment has failed, as seen most recently in the mass shootings by mentally ill individuals in Newtown, Conn., Aurora, Colo., and Tucson, Ariz. It is time for the federal government to get out of this business and return the responsibility, and funds, to the states.

Getting the federal government out of the mental health business may be easier said than done.

A 1999 Supreme Court ruling in the case of Olmstead v. L.C. held that under the Americans with Disabilities Act, individuals with mental disabilities have the right to live in an integrated community setting rather than in institutions.

The Department of Justice defined an integrated setting as one “that enables individuals with disabilities to interact with non-disabled persons to the fullest extent possible.” Though some mentally ill people may have benefited from this ruling, many others were harmed—not to mention the public, which must put up with the behavior of the mentally ill.

Torrey says it has now become politically correct to claim that this federal program failed because not enough centers were funded and not enough money was spent. But that’s not true. Torrey says:

Altogether, the annual total public funds for the support and treatment of mentally ill individuals is now more than $140 billion. The equivalent expenditure in 1963 when President John F. Kennedy proposed the [community mental health centers] program was $1 billion, or about $10 billion in today’s dollars. Even allowing for the increase in U.S. population, what we are getting for this 14-fold increase in spending is a disgrace.

The dollar cost of this liberal vision of deinstitutionalization of mentally ill people is a relatively small part of the burden placed on society.

Many innocent people have been assaulted, robbed, and murdered by mentally ill people. Businesspeople and their customers have had to cope with the nuisance created by the mentally ill.

The police response to misbehavior and crime committed by the mentally ill is to arrest them. Thus, they are put in jeopardy of mistreatment by hardened criminals in the nation’s jails and prisons.

Worst of all is the fact that the liberals who engineered the shutting down of mental institutions have never been held accountable for their folly.


Attention fathers

Former police officer and current firearms instructor Kevan Norin:

Non PC alert: It takes a man to raise a man.

I was, to put it politely, a rebellious child, but I had three things going for me — strong male role models in the Norin and Blindheim families, fictional heros who reinforced positive masculinity as the provider and protector (Lucas McCain, Matt Dillon, Officers Reed and Malloy, nearly every role ever played by John Wayne, the list goes on) and a culture that upheld these roles as Good. I worked to pass this ideal to my son, and he is passing it on to his.

This comes to mind as there are so many lost boys out there, lacking what I had, and being sought out by forces willing to fill the void that don’t care about what they are producing or are actively trying to build a world devoid of Lucas McCains.

Just sayin’. Your mileage may vary. Before anyone points out the common thread of the capacity for violence, consider the line that divides criminal violence from ambiguous violence (Clint Eastwood didn’t do us any favors with Dirty Harry and The Cowboy with no Name) from righteous violence — and not the revenge genre made popular by movies like Death Wish.

Put in real terms, it’s what’s separates a killer with a gun walking into a school, and a police officer with a gun running into a school to stop him.

The aforementioned McCain, of “The Rifleman,” was TV’s first single father. Dillon, played on radio by William Conrad and on TV by James Arness, was the marshal of Dodge City, Kan., on “Gunsmoke.” While I didn’t watch those often …

… but I was a religious watcher of “Adam-12”:

The series began with Malloy (the driver, therefore my favorite) getting ready to quit the police department after his partner died. On ostensibly his last night, he gets a rookie partner, newly married with a child on the way. (Spoiler alert: Malloy doesn’t quit.)

The actor who played Malloy, Martin Milner, was a real-life role model. He was married for 58 years. He had a 50-year career in Hollywood.

Series like these have remained popular decades after they left the air not merely because cable TV channels need something to fill air time. Viewers didn’t see Reed the father, but over its seven seasons they saw Reed mature under Malloy’s guidance. They saw police officers act how police officers should act, and both “Adam-12” and “Emergency!” (whose Roy DeSoto was also a father, though that was not often depicted either) inspired many future police officers, firefighters, paramedics and EMTs.

I’ve written here before in commenting about the Boy Scouts that children need multiple male role models. That includes fictional role models.



The Second Amendment civil war

David French:

[Wednesday] night, the nation witnessed what looked a lot like an extended version of the famous “two minutes hate” from George Orwell’s novel 1984. During a CNN town hall on gun control, a furious crowd of Americans jeered at two conservatives, Marco Rubio and Dana Loesch, who stood in defense of the Second Amendment. They mocked the notion that rape victims might want to arm themselves for protection. There were calls of “murderer.” Rubio was compared to a mass killer. There were wild cheers for the idea of banning every single semiautomatic rifle in America. The discourse was vicious.

It was also slanderous. There were millions of Americans who watched all or part of the town hall and came away with a clear message: These people aren’t just angry at what happened in their town, to their friends and family members; they hate me. They really believe I’m the kind of person who doesn’t care if kids die, and they want to deprive me of the ability to defend myself.

The CNN town hall might in other circumstances have been easy to write off as an outlier, a result of the still-raw grief and pain left in the wake of the Parkland shooting. But it was no less vitriolic than the “discourse” online, where progressives who hadn’t lost anyone in the attack were using many of the same words as the angry crowd that confronted Rubio and Loesch. The NRA has blood on its hands, they said. It’s a terrorist organization. Gun-rights supporters — especially those who oppose an assault-weapons ban — are lunatics at best, evil at worst.

This progressive rage isn’t fake. It comes from a place of fierce conviction and sincere belief.

Unfortunately, so does the angry response from too many conservatives:

While I don’t live in New York and D.C., I do interact with quite a few members of the mainstream media — from cable hosts to producers to print reporters — and I can assure you that this sentiment is every bit as slanderous to their characters as the claim that gun-rights supporters “don’t care” when kids are gunned down in schools.

Moreover, videos like this run alongside the NRA’s hard turn toward Trump and its angry ads that blur the lines between peaceful resistance and Antifa riots while condemning the “violence of lies” from gun-control advocates.

One thing’s for sure: Every single conservative who argues that such rhetoric is merely “fighting fire with fire” or making the enemy play by its own rules is matched by a progressive who argues the same darn thing. If you’re looking for one, you’ll never have trouble finding a reason to demonize your opponents.

My colleague Kevin Williamson has long argued that the gun-control debate isn’t a matter of policy but of “Kulturkampf.” The mutual disdain isn’t limited to vigorous disagreement about background checks; it extends to a perceived way of life. As Kevin says, some progressives believe that firearms are little more than “an atavistic enthusiasm for rural primitives and right-wing militia nuts, a hobby that must be tolerated — if only barely — because of some vestigial 18th-century political compromise.” They simply do not grasp — or care to grasp — how “gun culture” is truly lived in red America.

This loathing isn’t one-sided. It’s simply false to believe that the haters are clustered on the left side of the spectrum, and the Right is plaintively seeking greater understanding.

This loathing isn’t one-sided. It’s simply false to believe that the haters are clustered on the left side of the spectrum, and the Right is plaintively seeking greater understanding. Increasingly, conservatives don’t just hate their liberal counterparts; they despise the perceived culture of blue America. They’re repulsed by the notion that personal security should depend almost completely on the government. The sense of dependence is at odds with their view of a free citizenry, and — to put it bluntly — they perceive their progressive peers as soft and unmanly.

This divide won’t go away, and it has the potential to break us as a nation.

Unlike the stupid hysterics over net neutrality, tax policy, or regulatory reform, the gun debate really is — at its heart — about life and death. It’s about different ways of life, different ways of perceiving your role in a nation and a community. Given these immense stakes, extra degrees of charity and empathy are necessary in public discussion and debate. At the moment, what we have instead are extra degrees of anger and contempt. The stakes are high. Emotions are high. Ignorance abounds. Why bother to learn anything new when you know the other side is evil?

It takes more than a constitution or a government to hold a nation together. The ties that bind us as Americans are strong and durable, but the great challenges that formed them are receding into the past. Geographic differences create cultural differences, and cultural differences hasten ever-greater geographic change. Like clusters with like, and it results in the fury we saw last night, when one of the bluest communities in America vented its rage at the red emissaries in their midst.

A nation cannot endure forever when its people are consumed with such hate.


Making sense out of something senseless

Mike Rowe:

Like most of you, I’m overwhelmed with pity for the victims and their families, but consumed with anger for the coward who chose to murder. Rage and sorrow are hard things to reconcile, and the more such things occur, the more apparent it becomes that there is nothing new to say. …

Evil is real. As long as humans have walked the earth, people have chosen to do evil things. This is what happened in Florida. A nineteen-year old man chose to do an evil thing. He planned it. He executed it. He succeeded.

Should we endeavor to know why? Absolutely.

Should we discuss the impact of video games, accessible firearms, single-parents, no parents, powerful medications, social media, mental illness, bullying, or anything else we think might have encouraged him to choose evil over good? Without question.

But we should also stop confusing the influence of such things, with the root cause. Because nothing in this man’s past can possibly explain his decision to kill seventeen people. If you believe otherwise, ask yourself why millions of other people with a similar past, don’t make similar choices.

The past does not equal the future.

This is the most comforting thing I can tell you. … It’s also the most disconcerting. Because the facts are undeniable. People from horrible backgrounds often become the epitome of kindness. And people with every imaginable advantage, often go on to squander everything.

The past does not equal the future.

To the families of the victims I can only offer my sincerest condolences, along with my heartfelt wish that the man who killed their loved ones is removed from the planet with all due speed.

As for words, I can only repeat what others have said, and ask you to remember those who confronted evil with courage. People like Aaron Feis, the football coach who threw himself in front of the kids the killer was trying to murder.

Beyond that, I’m afraid I can offer nothing but my weekly attempt to prove that goodness also walks among us, just as surely as evil. In numbers far greater than our newsfeeds would lead us to believe.


News from my alma mater

David Blaska:

The Stately Manor has managed to coax a little more information out of Madison police over the riot that occurred shortly before 10 Tuesday morning at La Follette High School. A disturbance so serious that three students were injured, 18 police responded, and the number of students fighting is still hard to come by.

There is growing evidence that these melees are more common in Madison’s four public high schools than is generally known.

Ald. Paul Skidmore tells the Squire, that he is aware of “similar serious incidents at the other public high schools.” The alder says he wants “to raise public awareness to this growing problem.”

While our high schools erupt in violence, a small but noisy group of social justice warriors wants to kick police out of schools. Playing the race card, they are speaking to a receptive Madison school board.

Just yesterday (02-15-18) a lone gunman slaughtered 17 students and teachers at a high school in a suburb of Fort Lauderdale, Florida. But Madison’s war on police want to expel sworn police officers, armed and trained for just such emergencies, out of school? But not the troublemakers?

The proprietor of this essential Blogge will devote another chapter to the Florida shooting. For now, here are the details released by Madison Police Chief Mike Koval on the La Follette H.S. brawl:

It is hard to say how many students were actually involved in fighting. Once the fight began between a group of girls, it appeared as though a couple of smaller fights also broke out. In addition there were dozens of students pushing towards the incident to watch while others were trying to video record with their phones.  There were several dozen students in the immediate area.

Captain [Thomas Snyder], a lieutenant, a gang officer, and an ERO [educational resource officer Ken Mosley ] were meeting at the school when the fight broke out. An additional 14 officers or detectives responded. Some arrived as the fight had ended, but remained on scene until classes were resumed and students were out of the halls. Several officers remained on-site for over two hours.

[There were] three injuries. One female student was pushed into a window, perhaps not intentionally, but as a result of the skirmish.  She required stitches to cuts on her back. Another female student had lacerations to her hand from broken glass and required stitches as well.

A teacher was knocked over and fell to the ground and suffered a minor leg injury while attempting to assist. No arrests were made at the time of the incident, but there will be several citations/arrests as a result of students actions. Chief Koval said based on the behaviors described, “disorderly conduct” would probably be the most egregious charge. However, pending follow-up investigation, if our investigation reflects “intent” to do harm which subsequently caused these various injuries, more stringent charges could be possible.

The fight involved multiple females who are known to one another and have had on-going disputes for several months. The fight started in the Commons area when one group approached another and words were exchanged. None of the students was believed to be armed. No force was used by officers other than going “hands-on” with students in an attempt to pull them apart, separate combatants, and/or escort them to nearby offices for further investigation.

Multiple LHS staff members were on-scene almost immediately and many others arrived soon thereafter to assist. Staff did a good job in restoring order and facilitating the crowd to move along so classes could resume. School administration has been forthcoming and cooperative throughout the process.

To quell further outbreaks, police remained on-site [for 2½ hours] until 12:30 pm. during which time two of Madison’s four police districts, North and East, accepted only priority calls.

→ Madison school board’s ad hoc committee on police in high schools meets at 5 p.m. Wednesday, February 21, in Room 103 of the Doyle Administration Bldg., 545 W. Dayton St., MadisonThe Squire will be there. Will you?

Blaska’s Bottom Line: Disadvantaged students need police in our schools the most. Or would you rather that more students and teachers get injured?

I need not point out that that never happened when I was in high school.


What we can do

David French:

The United States is facing a puzzling paradox. Even as gun crime has plunged precipitously from the terrible highs of the early 1990s, mass shootings have increased. Consider this, 15 of the 20 worst mass shootings in U.S. history have occurred since the Columbine school shooting in 1999. The five worst have all occurred since 2007, and three of those five were in 2016 and 2017.

It’s horrifying, and governmental solutions are hard to find. Twitter’s fondest wishes to the contrary, the unique characteristics of mass shootings mean that they often escape the reach of public policy. The Washington Posts Glenn Kessler (hardly an NRA apologist) famously fact-checked Marco Rubio’s assertion that new gun laws wouldn’t have prevented any recent mass shootings and declared it true. Time and again, existing laws failed, or no proposed new gun-control law would have prevented the purchase.

The reason is obvious. Mass shootings are among the most premeditated of crimes, often planned months in advance. The shooter at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School reportedly wore a gas mask, carried smoke grenades, and set off the fire alarm so that students would pour out into the hallways. Though we’ll obviously learn more in the coming days, each of these things suggests careful preparation. A man who is determined to kill and who is proactive in finding the means to kill will find guns. He can modify guns. He can find magazines.

But that doesn’t mean there’s nothing we can do. When policies fail, people can and should rise to the occasion. Looking at the deadliest mass shootings since Columbine, we see that the warning signs were there, time and again. People could have made a difference.

Syed Farook and Tashfeen Malik spent at least a year preparing for their attack in San Bernardino, Calif. Farook may have even discussed the attack three years before the murders. A neighbor reportedly witnessed suspicious activity at the the shooters’ home, but was afraid to report what she saw.

The story of Devin Patrick Kelley — the church shooter in Sutherland Springs, Texas — is full of warning signs, acts of aggression, and missed opportunities. He was violent, he never should have passed a background check, and he “displayed a fascination with mass murders.”

Evidence of extended mental-health problems, aberrant behavior, or political radicalization is so common that the absence of such evidence in the Las Vegas shooting renders it the mysterious black swan of mass killings.

Adam Lanza’s family struggled with him for years before he committed mass murder at Sandy Hook. His mother was “overwhelmed” by his behavior, and he lived in deep isolation — blocking anyone from entering his room and even covering his windows with black plastic bags.

Seung-Hui Cho, the Virginia Tech killer, was known to be profoundly troubled. He stalked and threatened female schoolmates. In 2005, a court ruled that he was “an imminent danger to others,” but he was released for outpatient care.

The FBI twice investigated Omar Mateen, the Orlando Nightclub shooter, and he once claimed that he was affiliated with al-Qaeda and Hezbollah.

The list could go on and on. In fact, evidence of extended mental-health problems, aberrant behavior, or political radicalization is so common that the absence of such evidence in the Las Vegas shooting renders it the mysterious black swan of mass killings.

In 2015 Malcolm Gladwell wrote an extended essay in the New Yorker about school shootings and offered a provocative thesis:

What if the way to explain the school-shooting epidemic is . . . to think of it as a slow-motion, ever-evolving riot, in which each new participant’s action makes sense in reaction to and in combination with those who came before?

Gladwell argues that each new shooting lowers the threshold for the shooters to come. Each new shooting makes it easier for the next shooter to pick up his gun.

Others have used the term “contagion” to describe the wave of copycat killers. Again, each killing inspires the next, and as the killings increase so does the inspiration.

We can’t deflect responsibility upwards, to Washington. We’re still the first line of defense in our own communities.

What does this mean? It means that Americans need to be aware that this contagion exists, that this “ever-evolving riot” is under way. We can’t deflect responsibility upwards, to Washington. We’re still the first line of defense in our own communities. We cannot simply assume that the kid filling his social-media feed with menacing pictures is just in “a phase” or that strange obsessions with murder or mass death are morbid, but harmless.

We’ve trained ourselves to mind our own business, to delegate interventions to professionals, and to “judge not” the actions of others. But in a real way, we are our brother’s keeper; and an ethic of “see something, say something” is a vital part of community life.

Instead, we all too often retreat into our lives — either afraid that intervention carries risks or falsely comforted by the belief that surely someone else will do the right thing. We’ve seen this dynamic in other crimes. The worst of the sexual predators revealed (so far) by the #MeToo movement, Harvey Weinstein and Larry Nassar, could have been stopped so much earlier if the people around them had shown just an ounce more courage in the face of known complaints and known misconduct. We didn’t need better laws to stop rape. We needed better people.

One of the greatest challenges for any society is stopping a man who is determined to commit murder, and we’ll never fully succeed. Even the most vigilant community will still suffer at the hands of evil men. But it’s days like these, when children lay dead in school, that we must remind ourselves that we’re all in this together. We have responsibilities, not just to mourn and comfort the families of the lost, but to think carefully about our own communities and the circle of people in our lives — and to take action to guard our own children and our own schools.

It is the duty of a free people to be aware, to have courage, and to care for one another. For me, that’s a reminder that I can’t consider a troubled person someone else’s problem. I can’t assume it won’t happen in my school or in my town. Rather than tweet impotently, I’ve armed myself to protect my family and my neighbors; in my past role as a member of a school board, I’ve worked to better secure my kids’ school; and I’ve vowed that if — God forbid — I ever see evidence or warning signs of the darkness of a killer’s heart, I’ll have the courage to seek the intervention that can save lives.

That’s not public policy. It’s personal responsibility. It’s also the best way to confine the contagion that’s killing our kids.


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