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An awakening to end mass shootings?

Shift in thought

Even without a shift on gun control, the US can still devise a strategy to prevent large-scale attacks. One country in North Africa shows how.

A man walks past street art in the coastal town of Asilah, Morocco Oct. 13.
AP Photo
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  • The Monitor's Editorial Board

Other than small efforts by a few states to better regulate guns, does the United States have a grand strategy to end mass shootings? Given recent statistics, the lack of one seems odd.

Two of the worst mass killings – in Sutherland Springs, Texas, and Las Vegas – took place in the past two months. They have helped make 2017 the deadliest year for such tragedies. Over the past five years, the US has experienced four of its five most lethal mass shootings.

After the 9/11 attacks in 2001, the US created a comprehensive strategy to counter terrorists. But that national effort has mainly worked overseas. Inside the US, “lone wolf” killers inspired by radical Islam, such as those responsible for the shootings in San Bernardino, Calif., in 2015 and Orlando, Fla., in 2016, have been difficult to detect ahead of time. It’s also been difficult to identify non-Muslims, who, motivated by racism, revenge, or anti-Islam bigotry, have planned attacks, and prevent them from carrying them out. 

No matter what the motive, mass shootings are mass shootings. And if rapid-fire guns are not going to be curtailed anytime soon, Americans can at least awaken to the profound need for multifaceted ways to prevent individuals from conducting wholesale killing.

A good example of a country that has experienced a shift in public attitudes is Morocco. After a series of terrorist attacks in Casablanca that killed 45 in 2003, the North African nation launched a holistic and proactive approach aimed at reaching deep into society to avert further attacks. A US State Department report last July praised Morocco for its multidimensional strategy, “which places at the top of its priorities the objectives of economic and human development, vigilant security measures, as well as regional and international cooperation.”

Morocco has made social reforms, such as granting rights to women in hopes they might better prevent radicalization. It made economic reforms aimed at its poorest regions in order to reach marginalized youth. It encouraged Muslim preachers to promote a peaceful version of Islam. It beefed up security agencies to provide community-based policing and better track individuals supporting the Islamic State group. And if radicalized Moroccans are captured, the government tries to deradicalize them and reintegrate them into society.

Morocco is now considered a “leader in the battle of ideas taking place in the Muslim world,” according to an article in Foreign Affairs magazine last year, and in forging “a more inclusive society.”

Perhaps it is time for the US, with its sad history of large-scale shootings, to become a leader in how to end them. The first step is a public awakening, driven by a desire to reach individuals prone to kill – before they act. The statistics on gun deaths point to such a need.

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