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Continuous Performance Improvement

How Risk Managers Can Prevent Active Shooters

John Pryor | June 15, 2022

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Risk managers are committed to proactive prevention of injuries, property losses, and, yes, active shooters. All must be frustrated at our nation's apparent inability to address this issue proactively. Most actions appear to be only reactive—leaving lives lost and families and communities devastated.

Following the recent multiple murders in Buffalo, New York, a senior law enforcement officer commented on national TV, "Our red flag system is working so well that if we responded to every call, we wouldn't have officers available to arrest criminals!"

His statement tells us that Buffalo is not structured to respond to its own red flag system! They—and we—need to structure local organizations, public and private, to proactively prevent potential active shootings and totally avoid future tragedies. If such a system were created, what would be its component parts? How could it be designed to effectively prevent active shooters in our schools, churches, and shopping centers?

Pre-Attack Shooter Behaviors

But first, some background data from the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). Here's part of the FBI's conclusion to a study of pre-attack behaviors of active shooters: "The successful prevention of an active shooting frequently depends on the collective and collaborative engagement of varied community members, law enforcement officials, teachers, mental healthcare professionals, family members, threat assessment professionals, friends, social workers, school resource officers … and many others" including, of course, clergy. The FBI's conclusion continued, "A shared awareness of the common observable behaviors demonstrated by the active shooters in this study may help to prompt inquiries and focus assessments at every level of contact and every stage of intervention."

That's the operative word: "intervention." More specifically, early intervention, with counsel, as needed.

I call this an "early warning system" to differentiate it from the "red flag" statutes in many states, including California. Such laws are proactive in that they (judicially) separate the suspected shooter from all firearms before any can be used to kill—yet they do so very late in the process. Still, earlier intervention is essential and far superior, and it's what the FBI recommends.

Such a system requires structure but not legislation. It requires community organizations but not political debates. Existing community organizations can adopt such a system as a major effort within their existing structure—and, of course, new organizations can be created to accomplish this.

So, who are the potential shooters of this early warning system? The FBI study says almost all active shooters are male. Most range from ages 16–25. Predominating ages change with the type of target. For example, in schools, 56 percent are in their teens; however, in businesses, teenagers constitute only 2 percent of active shooters. Most of those (59 percent) are in their 20s and 30s. Contrary to the focus of national media and politicians, 59 percent use pistols, while 36 percent use rifles.

What are some of the major behaviors we need to observe that trigger (no pun intended) active shooters as found by the FBI? The following are a few.

  • Unexplained increase in absenteeism
  • Noticeable decrease in attention to appearance and hygiene
  • Depression/withdrawal
  • Increased severe mood swings
  • Explosive outbursts of anger or rage without provocation
  • Suicidal comments about "putting things in order"
  • Paranoic behavior ("everybody is against me")
  • Empathy with individuals committing violence
  • Increase in unsolicited comments about firearms

There are many others, of course. Not all relate to mental health, as you can see. More extensive data are included in this FBI study at "Active Shooter Resources."

No report to law enforcement should be required. No crime has been committed. Yet, counsel is essential to divert such people to totally avoid future criminal activity. Professional help should be considered without delay. The same early warning system can be extended to homelessness prevention.

Widespread active shooting continues to increase, but proactive early intervention can reverse this trend. Not with legislation. Not with political debates. Not with massive government funding. Only organized, common-sense community action and appropriate counsel at an early stage can prove effective.

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