Boulder. Indianapolis. Austin. The list of cities with publicized mass shootings grows with disturbing frequency. We notice—momentarily. We mourn—momentarily. And then the next event happens. Much like new email messages pushing prior messages out of view in our inboxes, each publicized shooting risks obscuring our focus and memory with respect to prior events. Frequent shootings occurring around the country may also cause us to miss entirely matters of concern in our own backyards. A mass shooting in Allendale, Michigan, on April 10—did Michiganders across the state even notice? (Tunison, 2021)
Last night I heard a speaker from Moms Demand Action who had grown up in Canada and moved to the United States as an adult. She mentioned the impact of such an international move. Initially, there is the shock of our country’s very unfamiliar (to Canadian eyes) frequent news reports about shootings, here and there and everywhere. Over time, there comes a sense of numbness as reports about shootings become routine, with the attendant risk of feeling resigned to their inevitability. Yet, one way to fight the numb feeling described by the speaker is to look for insights and lessons in specific events. If we treat gun violence as an unpleasant mass of events from which we avert our eyes, we miss opportunities to think about different dimensions of violence and possible steps toward reducing risk.
The Indianapolis shooting at the FedEx facility calls our attention to extreme risk protection orders, often referred to as “red flag laws.” These laws permit the removal of guns from the possession of individuals based on evidence that they pose a risk to themselves or others. Although police had removed one gun from the shooter’s possession based on his family’s report that he posed risks, he was able to make subsequent weapons purchases—that he used to kill eight people—because authorities did not make full use of Indiana’s law. The prosecutor said the law was “flawed” because, among other things, it did not provide a long enough time period for authorities to gather evidence (C. Smith, 2021). Lesson? Let’s look closely at these laws—as we should do with all laws—to think about how they may be improved for greater effectiveness. By the way, Michigan has no such law although bills have previously been introduced in the state legislature so that our state might join the dozen other states that have this tool to try to reduce gun violence by people in crisis.
The Austin shooting calls our attention to the benefits of constructing laws based on research evidence. Studies demonstrate that intrafamily conflicts pose a notable risk of motivating and triggering firearms violence. Just think about the many reports of mass shootings that occur within a household in order to recognize that anecdotal evidence is abundantly available to all of us in addition to social science research evidence. A former law enforcement officer facing charges for allegedly sexually assaulting his stepdaughter was subject to a protection order. He was supposed to stay away from the family. Yet, he was able to go to the apartment complex where his ex-wife resided as part of a custody exchange for his supervised visit with his young son (Thebault and Shammas, 2021). Thus, the opportunity was created for the shooting that took three lives. The case raises many questions about whether states’ criminal justice and legal systems are adequately prepared to prevent harm in situations that are known to present risks of gun violence. Does Texas have the laws that it needs to supervise felony defendants? Why did a judge permit the removal of the monitoring device on his ankle? Are there better measures that can guard against possession of a firearm by a felony defendant? Tragedies present unfortunate opportunities to think about what details might have been changed to reduce the risk of violence.
A less-noticed incident in New York City raises questions about our vision for guns and their role in society. A teenager from Ohio was arrested in the subway station at Times Square in New York City when he was spotted carrying a military-style rifle. He also had ammunition in his backpack. There are those who claim that our society best protects liberty when people can carry weapons of war everywhere, including in the visitor gallery of the Michigan Capitol. In the Times Square incident, however, New York’s restrictive gun laws signaled to law enforcement officers that a young person with an especially lethal firearm at the location of previous attempts to cause mass carnage meant that something was amiss (Gingras and Sterla, 2021). What were the teenager’s intentions? I, for one, am glad that the officers did not wait to find out. Under the U.S. Supreme Court’s interpretation of the Second Amendment, it is within the authority of states and the federal government to make policy choices about what firearms are available for purchase by the public and whether those firearms can be carried outside the home. Might we reduce risk if we regard the presence of firearms outside of hunting contexts as signaling that something is amiss and that questions should be asked? Something worth considering.
Insights and lessons are available from each tragic incident—and each potential tragedy that was averted, too. We can fight our confrontation with numbness by looking closely at and thinking about how to use gloomy news to construct the necessary steps to reduce risk and harm.
Gingras and A. Sturla, “18-Year-Old From Ohio Arrested with AK-47 in Times Square Subway Station, Police Say,” CNN, April 17, 2021 (cnn.com)
Smith, “Prosecutor: FedEx Shooter Didn’t Have ‘Red Flag’ Hearing,” Associated Press, April 19, 2021 (apnews.com)
Thebault and B. Shammas, “Before Austin Shooting Suspect’s Family Pleaded for More Protection: ‘I’m Afraid He Might Hurt Me,’” Washington Post, April 21, 2021 (washingtonpost.com)
Tunison, “Police Look for Man Wanted in Allendale Apartment Complex Shooting That Injured Four,” MLive, April 16, 2021 (mlive.com)
GUNS DON'T BELONG IN THE CAPITOL.
The Michigan Capitol Commission voted unanimously to support a limited prohibition on citizen-carried firearms inside the state Capitol. However, this ban does not apply to the Capitol grounds or to individuals with conceal carry permits. While an important first step, the Capitol Commission has a long way to go. Show your support and urge your representatives to ban all citizen firearms on the Capitol grounds!
Let’s make our voices heard and put an end to this dangerous practice!