Lessons from Sandy Hook

While he has a pretty good bully pulpit and a rapt audience of those he won over during his ill-fated U.S. Senate run, another thing Dan Bongino has is expertise in law enforcement and criminal study. So it was good information he passed along in a release yesterday regarding the Sandy Hook massacre:

There are simply no words appropriate to describe the tragedy at Sandy Hook.  As a father to two young daughters I can’t help but ask, “What if it were my daughters?” I am sending you this email because there are experiences and lessons I learned while working with the Secret Service that may help assist in preventing another tragedy.

In 2002, the Secret Service, in conjunction with the Department of Education, conducted a research study on school shooting incidents called the Safe School Initiative. The study sought information about the shooters’ pre-attack behaviors and communications. Their stated goal was to “identify information about a school shooting that may be identifiable or noticeable before the shooting occurs, to help inform efforts to prevent school-based attacks.” Although this email is not an appropriate forum for an exhaustive list of their conclusions I have highlighted a few of the study’s main conclusions below with a link to the complete report at the bottom.

According to the Secret Service website, the study highlights include the following:

  • School shootings are rarely impulsive acts. Rather, they are typically thought out and planned out in advance. In addition, prior to most shootings other children knew the shooting was to occur – but did not alert an adult.
  • Very few of the attackers, however, ever directed threats to their targets before the attack.
  • The study findings also revealed that there is no “profile” of a school shooter; instead, the students who carried out the attacks differed from one another in numerous ways.
  • Almost every attacker had engaged in behavior before the shooting that seriously concerned at least one adult – and for many, had concerned three or more different adults.

You can view the report here.

Obviously there’s been ten more years’ worth of data to compile since the report came out in 2002, although many of the domestic mass killings of late have occurred outside the school setting: examples include Fort Hood, the Aurora theater shooting, and the Safeway attack in Arizona where Rep. Gabrielle Giffords was seriously wounded and six others lost their lives. Like the school incidents studied, though, there was no real common denominator involved aside from the willingness of someone to break whatever laws were required to get the point across, whether it be for religious reasons, to get even with someone for a perceived slight or wrongdoing, or acting out a drama on a stage of their own creation.

One finding in the report Bongino cites was that incidents “were stopped by means other than law enforcement intervention and most were brief in duration.” Some reports of the Sandy Hook massacre indicate the shooting stopped when Adam Lanza knew he was cornered by police and chose to take the cowardly way out by killing himself. Given the fact he was the only one with a weapon in the school until police finally arrived, this seems like a logical explanation.

But that assertion brings up the old adage that “when seconds count, the police are just minutes away.” While many schools at junior high level and above have law enforcement officers who work at the school, the practice is relatively rare at the elementary level. It’s unfortunate that the Sandy Hook killings may lead to more police officers in the schools, but that may be the next step in the eyes of those who don’t mind the implied police state schools are becoming.

Maryland legislators like Delegate Mike McDermott are already working on the problem:


He Tweeted that last evening just before I wrote this piece. Knowing that the Annapolis majority would never go for arming teachers, this may be about as much of a middle ground as we can get in our General Assembly. I’d be inclined, though, to make arming the teachers the bill and have this in my pocket as a compromise.

Yet the clamor to do something – anything – in response to the Sandy Hook murders is a strong one. We could very easily slip and go the wrong way by enacting more gun control laws murderers like Adam Lanza will laughingly ignore as they set about their business of carnage creation; or, we can take the right approaches like I discussed the last few days. We still have a choice, but time is running out.