Gun Violence, Prevention, First Observer, Dan Verton

Prevention is No Longer The Answer to Stopping Gun Violence

From 2014 to 2018, I served on a team of experts writing and producing one of the nation’s largest anti-terrorism awareness training programs. Sponsored by the Department of Homeland Security and the TSA, the First Observer and First Observer Plus programs successfully taught more than 1.5 million transportation workers how to identify indicators of terrorist activity.

The underlying premise of the training was simple: People understand what normal activity looks like in their daily work routines and when something deviates from that norm having the proper knowledge of how terrorists carry out their attacks can help thwart an attack even at the last minute. We taught people how to observe, assess, and report suspicious behaviors and prevent terrorist attacks.

When the program came to an end, I took that knowledge and experience and applied it to workplace and school safety in my role as Director of Content for a leading risk intelligence and safety app company. We helped hundreds of large enterprises and universities, including the likes of FedEx, Hearst, and Duke University, connect with their employees and students to help identify the early warning signs of crime and violence in order to prevent it. 

For the most part, these prevention programs made a significant contribution to safety and security, and tipsters (like the citizen who tipped off police in Richmond, Virginia to a mass shooting plot on July 4) will always play an important role. And while I have championed these efforts for years in the battle to prevent school shootings and mass shootings in the workplace, I no longer believe these programs are up to the challenge of ending gun violence in America. We cannot train and crowdsource our way out of the kind of mass violence that now grips our country.

Red Flag Laws Are Window Dressing

When President Joe Biden signed the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act into law on June 26, many applauded the law’s so-called “red flag” provisions which through court orders can prevent individuals deemed a threat to themselves or others from obtaining firearms. The law also encourages states to include juvenile records in the National Instant Criminal Background Check System with grants as well as implements a new protocol for checking those records.

Politicians in Washington, D.C. may feel good about themselves for finally doing something, but red flag laws are merely window dressing that shifts responsibility from the government to the public for the early detection of individuals on a pathway to violence. Likewise, while it might be good to have access to juvenile court records when conducting background checks, the law still leaves a huge gap when it comes to school shooters who evade contact with law enforcement. The vast majority of information on young people who may be on a pathway to violence remains in the hands of school administrators who erroneously believe the law prevents them from sharing “school records” that contain concerns about mental health or violence. 

It’s The Guns, Stupid

As a former Marine officer, I’ve been trained on and fired everything from a pistol to a howitzer — too many weapons and rocket systems to remember. Yet, I’ve never felt the need to own a gun. Maybe I’ve been fortunate enough to live in relatively safe places, but I’ve also never believed for a moment that owning a gun was critical to keeping my government in check. That may have been true in the time of muskets and swords, but it’s an absurd argument to make in the face of today’s military capabilities. 

That said, everyone is free to own a weapon for hunting or for personal protection. They shouldn’t however, be free to purchase weapons of war — high-powered assault rifles with large capacity magazines like the AR-15 — which are useless for hunting and designed specifically to destroy the human body as quickly as possible. It is the easy access to these weapons that has made America one of the most dangerous places on earth.

So, if anyone reading this actually cares about our country and has a scintilla of moral courage, demand that our government outlaw civilian ownership of weapons of war. I’m tired of walking behind my family with my head on a swivel out of fear of being shot at. That’s not the America I grew up in and not the country I served.