There is no one solution that will stop violence in our country, especially as it pertains to violent incidents involving the illegal use of firearms.
Regardless of where you stand on firearms, one of the most dangerous myths far too many in our society hold is that passing firearms control laws (especially at the federal level) is the only way to reduce the illegal use of firearms. Additionally, there are those who believe more firearms laws would not affect the current illegal use of firearms, a position I understand, but do not necessarily totally agree with. Allow me to share several ideas I know will work and I am willing to participate with others to implement.
Identify at-risk individuals. At the community level we should initiate programs that train people to identity at-risk behaviors of individuals who appear capable of harming themselves and others. This should be presented at every level throughout our communities: schools (students, parents, school personnel, vendors), community outreach groups (nonprofits, fraternal organization, civic groups, faith based, scouting, etc.), associations (business, medical, trade organizations, etc.), public units (law enforcement, fire, town/city administration staff) and private corporations.
A total community immersion focusing on knowing the signs, establishing safety assessment and intervention programs, suicide prevention, domestic violence aid and strengthening friendly interpersonal relationships should be the first line of defense in reducing violent incidents. The key is not only to teach people what to look for, but how to effectively respond.
Safety and security programs. Initiate the four D’s strategy in every corner of our community. Currently the 4 D’s (deter, detect, delay, defend) are often discussed in connection with schools and to some degree the private sector. We need to make training available throughout our community, not just schools, but for soft target locations (entertainment venues, shopping centers, movie theaters, etc.). We also should work with institutions such the Association of Threat Assessment Professionals to develop community-based programs focused on threat assessment and prevention. We need to ensure we put key people in our communities through a threat assessment-reaction certification, as these people are in positions to institute these programs once they are certified (www.atapworldwide.org).
Involve/engage legal firearms owners. This is critical, especially when we look at the use of firearms related to suicides. According to DOJ statistics, suicide comprises approximately 60 percent of reported firearms deaths. There is a strong tradition of responsible firearms ownership in our country, especially in states such as New Hampshire. Instead of looking at firearms owners as the “enemy,” we should look at them as allies in violence prevention.
Responsible firearm merchants, firearm-sporting facilities and firearm associations all want to be part of the solution, and we need to stop turning our backs on responsible firearm owners merely because we disagree with firearm ownership.
To my fellow responsible firearm owners, we must be prepared to find common areas with those just as concerned as we are about the safety of our communities. There are those on “the other side” willing to work with legal firearms owners for the common good of reducing violence throughout our communities. This will not be easy as there is inherent “distrust” between the sides. Eventually, the sides will have to figure out a way to move beyond some of our current impasses.
Focus on neighborhoods and homes in crisis. This is not as big of an issue in New Hampshire as it is across the country (yet). However, as some of our larger communities continue to grow and struggle with underlying social factors (addiction, broken homes, mental illness, etc.), we must have a coordinated effort to address the violence that arises from these conditions.
Twenty-five percent of America’s firearms homicides occur in communities that represent less than 1.5 percent of our country’s total population (American Journal of Medicine). Using data-driven policies to focus on reducing violence in neighborhoods most affected by the plight of violence is crucial. Fortunately, many of our state’s law enforcement units practice the recommended techniques developed through a data-driven approach. As communities grow, we must be prepared to utilize community policing approaches to address neighborhood safety. The partnership of law enforcement, social services and community leaders requires we look at all issues affecting a neighborhood and home life that lead to the increase of violent activity. Broken homes, police mistrust, mental illness and addiction must be viewed at the same time. These are not competing issues but root causes of violence.
These are not my ideas, but widely accepted approaches that will reduce violent incidents in our communities, especially with the three critical types of events. In no way is it my intention to dismiss other classifications of violent crimes, and the recommendations mentioned in this article are not exclusive to one type of violent crime or focused on one type of weapon.
I am mindful there are three primary types of incidents that are the undercurrent moving today’s conversation: Violent incidents in areas designed as public gathering zones such as shopping malls, entertainment venues and especially schools, suicide and domestic violence. These approaches are foundational in nature, and so long as we remain true to our shared intent (reducing violent crime), there is common ground to be found.
I approach this discussion from a very unique perspective, not just as a columnist and firearms owner, but as a former soldier and police officer. As a community police officer, I was entrusted with the safety of our students and had the privilege to teach in our schools. Unfortunately, I also had the sad duty of investigating violent crime, including those resulting from the illegal use of firearms. I want to be part of the solution, understanding we may not agree with every approach, but there is common ground.
In my next column I will address current legislative initiatives and measures being proposed in an effort to combat violence in our communities.