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Reviews |  We may be able to prevent some mass shootings


Follman argues that even in the absence of stricter gun regulations, we have made progress in understanding and perhaps even preventing the most notable forms of mass shootings, rampages in which three or more people are killed deliberately and seemingly indiscriminately, often by a single attacker. .

Who is “we”? Mental health specialists, academic researchers, state and federal law enforcement officials, and school and university administrators across the country. Follman explores the history and promise of an interdisciplinary field known as “behavioral threat assessment,” a set of ideas to help managers recognize and redirect a potential shooter away from violence. At the heart of the model is the notion that mass shootings aren’t like lightning strikes — they’re not just sudden, unplanned attacks involving people “slamming”. Mass shots are more like avalanches: they take time to form, they usually follow a predictable pattern, and if you know what to look for, you can sometimes spot them from afar, and maybe even prevent them from happening. .

“There’s a lot we can do to demystify the problem of mass shootings, to make sense of what we generally dismiss as ‘senseless’ or inexplicable tragedies, to help prevent them,” Follman told me. This preventive work is not a panacea; the approach is resource-intensive, constantly evolving, and its success is difficult to measure – after all, just because an attack doesn’t happen doesn’t necessarily mean you’ve prevented one. But Follman says he thinks behavioral assessment may have prevented a mass shooting in “dozens of cases across the country.” The book presents the first realistic and optimistic case for addressing mass shootings that I have heard of – well, probably ever.

Follman is editor of Mother Jones magazine, where he has covered mass shootings for a decade. (Disclosure: In the mid-2000s, he was a colleague of mine at the Salon.) In 2012, Follman and two colleagues, Gavin Aronsen and Deanna Pan, created the website’s pioneering database of mass shooting events. . In the course of this work, Follman writes, he noticed a pattern – that “many authors had acted disturbingly or disruptively before attacking, often for a long time”. This realization led him to researchers who have been working to identify pre-attack behaviors since the 1980s.

The model varies, but behavioral threat assessments typically involve placing teams of trained counselors and administrators in schools, colleges, workplaces, and other environments where shootings could occur. To prevent one person from killing others, these teams look for patterns of behavior that research has shown people tend to adopt in the path of a mass attack. Some of the “warning behaviors” of potential attackers include acts of aggression and violence, harassment, threatening communications, fascination with previous shooters and, of course, planning and preparing for an attack. In many cases, these signs are obvious – the potential abuser’s friends, family, classmates, teachers and other community members often cannot help but notice that the person is troubled.

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