School Shootings Explored during June Alumni Hour

In a timely presentation coming in the wake of the Robb Elementary School mass shootings that claimed the lives of 19 students and two teachers in Uvalde, TX, the Center for Homeland Defense and Security’s June Alumni Hour addressed the epidemic of school shootings in the U.S.

Featuring CHDS instructor David Brannan as moderator with two CHDS alumni as guests including Department of Homeland Security Center for Prevention Programs & Partnerships Associate Director Bruno Dias, formerly a Dallas-area school safety administrator, and CHDS K-12 School Shooting Database co-founder David Riedman, the June 23 online event drew a number of CHDS alumni who weighed in remotely with a range of views on the topic.

Top to bottom: David Riedman and Denver Police Chief Paul Pazen

Brannan kicked off the Alumni Hour by telling Riedman he had followed the school shooting database since Riedman and fellow CHDS alum Desmond O’Neill started developing it, noting that the database’s relatively broad definition of a school shooting and suggesting a discussion about the variety of incidents “beyond just tracking rampage shootings like Uvalde.”

During his comments, Riedman talked about the complexity of defining school shootings and how they are a multi-generational problem dating back to 1970 when the database historical record begins. He also discussed how security plans and procedures implemented since the Columbine High School mass shooting in Colorado aren’t working because attacks are becoming more frequent and more deadly despite the allocation of more resources dedicated to stopping them. And he argued that innovation will outpace gun regulations because of the development and use of guns from kits that are produced using 3D technology and purchased online.

Later, Brannan asked Dias to discuss what is being missed with regard to school shooting threats, whether Dias and his DHS office are finding ways to identify the warning signals, as well as whether DHS is working with tech companies to identify online “leakage,” or communication to a third party of the intent to do harm, and what other methods are being pursued to disrupt the pathway to violence.

Meanwhile, Brannan opined how “complexity theory” has made clear that “single-issue answers” are often political rather than holistic responses to homeland security challenges, noting the U.S. Supreme Court’s 6-3 ruling a week earlier striking down concealed carry permit restrictions and asking whether the two guests’ positions or research speak to that complexity.

If so, Brannan continued, what do answers to the school shooting issue look like given how “firmly baked into the Constitution” guns are, and what evidence is there supporting those answers.

Brannan also asked about disrupting the pathway to violence through behavioral threat assessment, case management and student support.

Top to bottom: David Brannan and Bruno Dias

During a lively chat session, CHDS alumni discussed a series of topics related to school shootings ranging from crisis incident management and “leakage” to the influence of mental illness, social media, and access to violent video games and other media, and access to guns.

CHDS alum Angi English pointed out that school shootings “occur in a complex adaptive system … where uncertainty and chaos rule, and where we need to be able to act in more agile ways, like in an Emergency Room … by focusing more on the team members’ interaction with each other than on the characteristics of individual team members.” English noted that the Uvalde shooting incident ended with a U.S. Border Patrol team “taking the initiative with their training to react,” and asked “how do we now pivot to be more agile?”

Fellow CHDS alum Scott Winegar noted that “about 85% of school rampage shootings” involved “leakage,” or advance threats, adding that “someone knew and did not take any action.”

CHDS alum Susan Jones-Hard said she led the joint information center function after Columbine including a crisis communications conference with federal, state and local officials, the media, and others from across the nation “to find solutions so this would never happen again.”

“Yet it has and it has escalated,” Jones-Hard noted. “I don’t see any new solutions these days.”

One CHDS alum said it seemed to them that school shootings “are, with rare exceptions, a particularly American phenomenon,” suggesting that research could show that rates of mental illness, social media involvement and access to violent video games and media are similar among American youths and those from foreign countries, and asking what variable in the U.S. leads to more school shootings.

While some speakers suggested focusing on behavioral interdiction rather than the access to firearms issue, CHDS alum Abby Sanford Pitman argued that it was not possible to “decouple school shootings from firearms.”

CHDS alum Jonathan Gaddy said he wondered about the “nexus of firearms access/rights in the U.S.” and the “nation’s broader strategic posture.”

And aother CHDS alum noted a juvenile threat response pilot program being run by the FBI in Philadelphia that is based on local county agencies including law enforcement, health, educators, and the like working together to identify potential threats as early as possible, which has had initial success, and suggested that could be of interest to fellow alums.

INQUIRIES: Heather Hollingsworth Issvoran, Communications and Recruitment | hissvora@nps.edu, 831-402-4672 (PST)

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