The tragic events at Sandy Hook elementary have once again brought us together in mourning an act of senseless violence. If past events are any indicator, we may never know the real drivers behind a young man committing such atrocities. Regardless, those of us working to improve public safety have an obligation to look retrospectively at the events and try to understand what can be done to better protect our citizenry, especially the most vulnerable.
Over the weeks, months and years to come the debate will rage around video game violence, mental health services, school security procedures and gun control. While it is inarguable that there is a correlation between mental health and mass killings, the data around gun control and video game violence is not as clear with both sides able to produce studies proving their points (for an interesting summary of real research done into these type of events, look here).
Recently a number of articles have also been published showing that the rate of mass killings has actual decreased, with the largest numbers being reported in the 1920’s. I think that wildly misses the point. One child killed is too many and justifies a hard look at the drivers behind these type incidents and how we can avert them.
So, the real question is: how can we in the publicly safety industry remove the emotions from the arguments and identify actionable changes, founded in factual evidence, that can change the equation. I don’t know if we should arm administrators in schools, or eliminate guns all together. I’m not sure if the early intervention programs for those “profiled” as potentially suffering from depression or other mental conditions should be more aggressive. Or maybe emergency action plans for active shooters should be drilled at schools the way I grew up doing tornado and nuclear attack drills.
The only real thing I do know is that the solution to the problem isn't isolated to any one group – it’s not a police problem or school problem or mental health problem – it’s a problem, the root of which can only be identified and that can only be solved by collaboration across public and private entities. We need to change the equation from rhetorical arguments to a discussion focused on the overall objective we all seek – a reduction in senseless loss of innocents via a holistic look at the problem. How do we initiate this constructive dialog? I’m at a loss but hoping we can generate some productive ideas.