Public Comment

New: Reducing Mass Shootings in Our Schools

Mike Weimer
Sunday February 18, 2018 - 10:27:00 PM

In the wake of the Florida school shooting, conservative media (writers and TV journalists) has offered 3 major proposals to reduce such incidents: 1) concentrate on mental health, 2) if you see something suspicious report it, 3) arm and train school personnel in addition to present security personnel. All three are problematic.  

I assume advocates of the mental health viewpoint want one of two things to happen, or possibly both. Either they want to keep firearms out of the hands of mentally ill individuals or they would like to know in advance if an individual is disposed to do harm to others and assist them in correcting that tendency. If either of these ideas is to become reality, several questions need to be answered. 

1) How is "mentally ill" defined? 2) How is "disposed to do harm" defined? 3) At what point in an individual's lifespan is a determination to be made and by what method? 4) Who would make the diagnosis? 5) What are the qualifications of the diagnostician and what kind of training should they have? 6) Who does the diagnostician report to and in what period of time? 7) After the diagnosis is reported what actions are permissible? 8) Who is responsible if an individual is determined to be mentally ill or disposed to do harm and between the time a diagnosis is made and action is taken the individual obtains a firearm and kills someone? 9) How are individuals in the business of selling firearms to know if an individual is diagnosed as mentally ill or disposed to do harm and what is their responsibility? 10) What is the cost of diagnosis, training, monitoring, and enforcement? 

Those advocates who believe if you see something, say something must also grapple with important questions. 

1) Who, exactly, are they supposed to say something to? 2) Is the individual who appears to be acting suspicious actually doing something illegal? 3) Legally, what is the person or institution that receives the report required to do? 4) Do the people or institutions who receive reports of suspicious activity have the capacity to follow up? Are they actually able to prevent the reported individual from causing further harm? 5) What is the cost of personnel, equipment, and monitoring? 

There is one final question regarding either of the above approaches: Are we as a nation willing to live in a society where each of us might be under suspicion or subject at any time to mental fitness testing? 

The proposal to arm personnel in addition to any security personnel present on a campus or other public space is the most problematic.  

1) How are additional personnel to be selected and how many are needed? 2) Who should make the decision? 3) What type of firearms are said personnel allowed or required to possess? Are handguns sufficient against rapid-fire assault weapons? 4) What other equipment should said personnel possess ­ body armor, safety vests, etc? 5) Where are the firearms to be kept? 6) How does one control access to the firearms so that unauthorized persons cannot access them? If in a central place will that give the armed personnel enough time to counter the attacker? 7) Do we really want non-security personnel to open carry in a school? 8) What procedures need to be put in place to assure that non-security personnel (or security personnel for that matter) do not use the firearms in unauthorized instances? 9) What is the cost of arming, training, storage, and maintenance? 

My personal preference is for a complete ban on any firearms except those used for hunting which should be kept at a club site with trigger guards. However, the Supreme Court has ruled that firearms can be possessed for private use in the home for traditionally lawful purposes. In the absence of any further guidance from the Supreme Court or from Congress individuals have interpreted the decision to mean that they have the right to own and use any type of firearm and today rapid-fire arms with multi-bullet magazines and equipment to modify arms for rapid-fire capability are common. In addition, absent further guidance, states have developed a variety of laws and regulations around permits and uses of firearms which has resulted in confusion and the ability of individuals to evade state regulations by going across borders. One practical solution then is to standardize firearm regulations and laws at the federal level so that there is no confusion.  

One promising step is what is variously referred to as a gun violence restraining order or risk warrant adopted by 5 states. It allows family members to submit to a court evidence that a particular person in the family may be likely to cause harm to other humans and to restrict that individual¹s access to firearms. In some cases, it allows law enforcement to search a home for firearms and confiscate them as necessary. There are some loopholes in this process such as what to do if family members don¹t think anything is wrong or the individual simply moves to another state where the order is not enforced. Unfortunately, such an order would not have stopped the Florida incident because everyone, including the FBI, thought the perpetrator was low risk. Nor would it have stopped the Las Vegas shooting because he was an adult. Again, it would help if the whole process were federally standardized and loopholes were closed.  

Another procedure that would assist in reducing firearm deaths is to place the permit process in the hands of local law enforcement. No individual could possess a firearm unless they first obtained a permit for specific types of weapons which must be shown to any dealer prior to purchase, just like a driver¹s license or ID must be shown before purchasing alcohol or cigarettes. The permit would be subject to periodic renewal.  

Finally, I cannot think of a single earthly reason why anyone would need anything other than a simple handgun or single-shot shotgun or rifle for any traditional lawful purpose. I believe that a total ban on the manufacture, sale, distribution, and possession of rapid-fire weapons and any equipment which could be used to modify any weapon for such use, for anyone not in law enforcement or the military, must be enacted. Even with such a law one cannot guarantee that such weapons and ammunition will not slip into the wrong hands. No country in the world has succeeded in eliminating the possibility of mass murder nor single killing by firearms ­ or for that matter any other weapon. But we owe our children and young adults the promise of a world in which they have the best chance to live a life free from harm at the hands of another. We only need the will to put it in writing.