While most of the country has debated the effectiveness of gun control, law-enforcement officers, mental-health professionals, and other experts have pioneered a new way to prevent mass shootings.
Mark Follman’s new book, Trigger Points: Inside the Mission to Stop Mass Shootings in America, chronicles their work in the emerging field of behavioral threat assessment.
“The scope of the mass shootings problem is larger and more complex than its tool of destruction,” Follman writes.
He spent eight years working on the book. His initial analysis of cases revealed that there had been early warning signs in many of the cases of the shooters’ propensity for violence.
“If we could have done more to detect and resolve the danger before it was too late, wouldn’t we have done it?” Follman writes. “The affirmative answer to that question hinges on proving a negative: in threat assessment cases, the absence of a violent outcome is evidence of success. But how could you really know you prevented an attack if one didn’t occur?”
With startling frequency, mass shooters tell others about their plans. In the case of school shootings, their confidant could be a classmate. Older shooters might show a tendency for violent behavior on social media.
Behavioral threat assessment shows particular promise in averting school shootings, where potential shooters among the student body can be more closely monitored. That’s more true of high schools than colleges, where students enjoy more freedom.
School officials can also steer troubled youth in a positive direction.
“If a kid got involved in an activity or youth group he liked, or connected with a mentor, he would be less likely to head down the pathway to violence,” Follman writes.
Follman tells the story of a young man who had tried to strangle his mother and seemed destined to shoot up his school. But after police found out, he received long-term care and improved steadily. He ended up getting married, having children, and attending church every Sunday.
Why Christians should read this book
It portrays an out-of-the-box way to limit mass shootings while offering healing to troubled individuals.
The big takeaway
Mass shooters often exhibit troublesome behavior before they act. Other people should alert the authorities when they witness these warning signs.
In their own words
“I’ve seen in so many cases the points where, if just one person in these individuals’ lives had taken notice and helped them, it could’ve made a difference.” —Karie Gibson, an FBI agent and clinical psychologist
“A big challenge we face is buy-in. We need to get more people to understand what this work is, that it’s a problem-solving model using components mostly already in place, and that it needs to be community-based.” —Russell Palarea, former president of the Association of Threat Assessment Professionals
“Even as a scientist and psychologist, I do have a belief that evil exists. Those are the extreme cases, the outliers, and threat assessment work is not going to stop those. Force is going to stop those.” —Gene Deisinger, psychologist and former law-enforcement officer