Intervening with Troubled Youth May be the Most Effective Gun Safety Measure
A bipartisan group of senators announced a tentative “common sense” gun safety agreement Sunday that would fund mental health resources, boost school safety, expand background checks and incentivize states to implement red flag laws. Also on Sunday, the leader of the Violence Project, which has studied the history of mass shooters, said, “The reality is, the most likely perpetrator is walking in and out of school security every day.”
The Senate agreement, signed by 10 Republicans and 10 Democrats, falls short of restricting the purchase and possession of assault-style weapons, as gun control advocates seek and the House passed last week. But the agreement reflects a commitment “to do something” in the face of a series of mass shootings, including in Buffalo and Uvalde, Texas, that have sparked mass protests and widespread calls to action.
Ten Republicans in support of the compromise should ensure the agreement doesn’t get derailed by a filibuster. The agreement is in outline form, so support could grow or decline when actual legislative language is drafted. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer called the agreement “a good first step”. Several gun safety advocates praised the agreement as “the most significant piece of gun safety legislation to make it through Congress in 26 long and deadly years”. The National Rifle Association issued a statement calling for “real solutions” such as securing schools, fixing a broken mental health system and supporting law enforcement.
A notable provision included in the draft agreement addresses the “boyfriend loophole” in red flag laws. This would prohibit dating partners as well as spouses from owning guns if they had been convicted of domestic violence or are subject to domestic violence restraining orders. Red flag laws enable family members or law enforcement officials to seek court orders to confiscate deadly weapons or prevent their purchase.
The agreement also would expand criminal background checks to allow review of juvenile records for people under the age of 21 attempting to buy firearms.
Bipartisan negotiations were led by Democratic Senator Christopher Murphy of Connecticut and Republican Senator John Cornyn of Texas. Cornyn was chosen to lead GOP gun safety negotiators by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. The agreement resulted after hectic days of in-person sessions, phone calls and Zoom meetings. The goal is to have legislation ready to pass before the July 4 congressional recess.
The Violence Project
Drs. Jillian Peterson, a psychologist, and James Densley, a sociologist, appeared on Face the Nation to discuss findings from their comprehensive research of 180 mass shooters over the last 50 years, which they compiled in a database and discuss in a book, The Violence Project: How to Stop a Mass Shooting Epidemic.
In response to questions from John Dickerson, Peterson said the most common characteristic of mass shooters is some form of childhood trauma that has gone unaddressed by the shooter, family members, educators and law enforcement.
Based on their data, Peterson and Densley said 58 percent of mass shooters die at the scene of their shooting, often by their own hand. They also said 44 percent of mass shooters flag what they plan to do in advance. Motivations for actual shootings typically stem from problems with domestic relationships, employment issues, interpersonal conflicts and hate. Psychosis is a cause in less than 20 percent of mass shootings.
Their bottom line is attention should be paid and funding provided to intervention for young children who are bullied, isolated or in some form of crisis. Peterson said their evidence indicates investing in intervention is the best protection against allowing the disaffection of a young person to fester and result in violence. “Holistic violence prevention addresses the complete systems of pathways and precursors to violence,” according to the Violence Project website. “Rather than focusing on a single solution, holistic prevention examines and responds to the root causes of violence at the individual, institutional and societal level.”
Densley said ensuring troubled youth can’t obtain lethal weapons also is essential.