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.

Another Giffords attack casualty: the town hall meeting?

I was told by the editors this was a good article but there’s no room at the inn over at PJM this week, so you get this in its entirety. It happens to the best of us.

Most pundits look at the voting records when comparing the performance of individual members of Congress, but a less-noticed aspect of their job description comes in the area of constituent service and interaction. To many, a good public servant in Washington doesn’t just bring home the bacon but answers that Social Security question for Grandma or gets the neighbor’s son into one of the military academies.

As part of that service, many members of Congress hold public interactions with the residents of their district. It was at one of these meetings she dubbed “Congress On Your Corner” where Rep. Gabrielle Giffords was shot by a crazed assailant, Jared Loughner. Ironically enough, the attack, which killed six bystanders including a nine-year old girl born on September 11th and a federal judge, occurred in front of a Safeway supermarket.

There’s no question that the shooting has prompted even more heated discussion on the already hot topic of our national political discourse – blaming Sarah Palin, who was half a country away at the time of the incident, for having a hand in the attack proves this point – but perhaps the more chilling lasting effect will be to further close off our Congress from public interaction during the period when Washington is out of session. While the complaints of their voting public prompted many Democratic Congress members to eschew the usual round of summertime meetings or make them telephone-only, the threat of violence may cast a pall over the summer schedule this year. Being hung in effigy is one thing but getting shot is completely another.

Yet there are attempts to maintain the format in several areas, such as this Philadelphia television station or a Virginia state senator who changed his session from a telephone town hall to an in-person one in defiance of the Giffords shooting. The question, of course, is whether these will be exceptions to the rule.

Common sense would dictate, if and when a robust schedule of townhall meetings is resumed, that security measures will be stepped up with more of a law enforcement presence. This leads to the question of whether those who get angry and passionate about their pet issues will be discouraged from speaking up with the long arm of the law looking on. Since the TEA Party is continually miscast as a group of violent extremists – witness the quickly-formed bandwagon blaming the Giffords shooting on a member of the radical right wing – tolerance for perceived misbehavior at any such gatherings will be limited.

But the argument against any sort of crackdown is strong. Even in the midst of an anger-filled mob back in March when the health care bill was being passed and a number of Congressmen walked amidst the protesters in front of the Capitol, the worst incidents which (allegedly) occurred were verbal attacks on particular members who were the victims of flying spittle. Obviously at that moment a Jared Loughner in that crowd could have mowed down any number of elected officials and bystanders before Capitol police would have arrived for assistance.

Instead, we the people can look for an increase in those scripted, press-friendly events where the message can be controlled and interaction limited. Members of Congress may instead argue that their constituents are able to communicate easily with their staffers via e-mail or telephone and that they can have their concerns answered outside of a face-to-face meeting. That is, of course, if you don’t call into a voice mailbox that’s full, which happens quite often during those times one would most like to interact. And if you’ve had my personal experience with e-mailing my Congressman it’s likely you can expect a form letter in response well after the vote has been taken or the issue is moot.

Whether you favored Gabrielle Giffords’ voting record or not, by many accounts she was a stickler for constituent service. That fact may have turned the tide in her favor in November despite running as a Blue Dog Democrat who voted in favor of Obamacare but later voted not to keep Nancy Pelosi as Speaker of the House – she instead voted for Rep. John Lewis of Georgia. Giffords only eked out a victory over Republican Jesse Kelly by 3,641 votes out of over 270,000 cast.

And whether you had that concern with Social Security payments, wanted to debate the health care issue, or was a neophyte politician who was just elected to her student council and sought to know more about the political world – as was the case with Christina-Taylor Green, the nine-year-old Tuscon shooting victim – the fact remains that the ability to speak in person with their representative in Washington face-to-face is a cornerstone of our republic. In Giffords’ situation, only the most extreme and draconian safety measures may have saved the victims, but they may also have served as an intimidating factor to those who simply wished to make their views known to her on a one-to-one basis.

While we generally identify with only our own era of history, it’s understood that political discourse has always been passionate and on four occasions our leaders have been slain by a madman’s bullets. But it’s a republic we remain, and we can’t allow the tragedy of Gabrielle Giffords’ shooting to place our government and its representatives farther from the people.

‘Civil Rights Day’ and the state of civility

First of all, the reason I titled this post as I did is that I think this holiday should be known as ‘Civil Rights Day.’ It rarely falls on the actual birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and given the government’s love of three-day weekends perhaps a name change is in order. For example, we rarely celebrate Washington’s Birthday on its actual date and to most it’s truncated into President’s Day.

While today Dr. King is being eulogized once again in a number of ways, perhaps this is a good time to reflect on the discourse of the civil rights era; a decade which roughly spanned from the mid-1950’s to the mid-1960’s. I was born at the very tail end of the decade, so I won’t claim that I marched in Selma or anything like that. From what I understand about the time, though, there was some seriously heated political rhetoric and on a few occasions this boiled over into violence.

Obviously we’ve come a long way since then, with the election of Barack Obama supposedly the trigger for a ‘post-racial’ society. Yet TEA Partiers like myself are tarred with the moniker of ‘racist’ by simply questioning the wisdom of Obama’s policies and plans. By extension, yes, we are questioning the content of Obama’s character but we are accused of basing our opposition on the amount of pigment in Obama’s skin.

To give another example, ask a black Republican how many times he or she is called an “Oreo” or an “Uncle Tom.”

All this call for ‘civility’ comes in the wake of the shooting of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and many others in Tuscon, a shooting where six victims died. It also comes after lefties got their weekend exercise jumping to conclusions about how shooter Jared Loughner simply had to be a TEA Party regular who got his marching orders from Sarah Palin, Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh, and obeyed the target symbols on the internet for Giffords’ Congressional district. Yet once evidence came out that he was a political agnostic who was, if anything, left of center – ::: sound of crickets chirping ::: .

Assuming most of you have read this blog a few times, it’s likely you know that I reside well right of center on the political scale, and had I lived in Arizona’s Eighth District I’d likely have voted for her Republican opponent in November. (In fact, Gabrielle Giffords won this election in a similar fashion to that which Frank Kratovil won our district in 2008 – via plurality, with a Libertarian candidate taking 3.9% of the Eighth District vote.)

It’s also known that I covered the July 2009 event here in Salisbury where Frank Kratovil was hung in effigy. Certainly I believe in First Amendment rights, as one might suspect I would being a member of the ‘pajamas media.’ But as I said at the time:

Let me say straight away that I wouldn’t have recommended the noose and effigy of Frank Kratovil. The “no Kratovil in 2010″ (sign) would have been effective enough.

But don’t forget that the local lefties decided to intrude upon an AFP event just a few months ago, with the intent being to disrupt the proceedings and embarass the eventual winning candidate. Admittedly, a chicken suit is less threatening than a noose but neither rise to the level of actual bloodshed.

The point is that my criticism of Kratovil would have likely been similar to that of Giffords had I lived in her district, and I wouldn’t have been shy in sharing it. But I would have been just as horrified about Loughner’s actions.

(In fact, I have a separate article I submitted to Pajamas Media about another effect the Giffords shooting may have on political discourse, with a somewhat different angle than I present here. It may be on there as soon as tomorrow.)

Some say that the political tone we are saddled with these days, with its superheated rhetoric, can be toned down on both sides. But had Martin Luther King, Jr. been assassinated in 2011 instead of 1968, we likely still would have had the scattered rioting which occurred in the wake of his death. Emotional reactions to the death of popular leaders seldom change but are manifested in different ways.

Like it or not, part of the price of living in a free society as we do is having to put up with these arguments. Normally they are settled by the ballot, though, and it’s telling that it took someone with a mental illness to settle their differences with a bullet. Fortunately, our society still prefers the former solution despite the best efforts of some to argue otherwise.