It takes a village to stop mass shooters

A new federal focus aims at supporting citizens and communities to keep guns away from troubled individuals. Short of banning guns, local efforts may be the best prevention.

Students evacuate Saugus High School in Santa Clarita, Calif., after a gunman opened fire at the school Nov. 14.

Is all gun control local? With Congress deadlocked on passing new gun-safety measures, it may be coming to that. In the wake of recent mass shootings – including the latest at a Southern California high school – many cities and states have taken actions of their own. Now the FBI and U.S. Justice Department are focusing on better ways to support communities and individuals to curb gun violence.

On Wednesday, U.S. Attorney General William Barr launched a federal program called Project Guardian. Its primary aim is to assist community organizations and local law enforcement “in ways that fit the local circumstances.” It would, for example, make sure there is an adequate mental health response for troubled individuals. It would also swiftly update federal databases to show when someone should not be allowed to own a gun. In addition, it would back up state prosecutions in gun cases by adding federal charges.

The FBI, meanwhile, issued a report today that analyzed the profiles of dozens of lone gun attackers and concluded that “all citizens have a critical role in prevention.”

The report said mass gun violence can be prevented through early recognition and reporting of “concerning behavior.” The main reason: “Most offenders were not truly isolated and had family, peers, or online contacts who were in a position to notice troubling behavior.”

“Prevention is more than just a law enforcement effort,” stated Christopher Wray, director of the FBI.

The report found that in 69% of the cases studied, one or more individuals – dubbed “bystanders” by the FBI – took some action to address one or multiple concerning behaviors that had been observed in a gun offender.

“Often, this took the form of expressing concern directly to the offender and/or expressing concern to friends and family members,” the report found.

In a third of cases, such individuals expressed concern to one or more community authority figures, such as a religious leader or a medical professional, at some point during the offender’s life.

Most shooters are white males adrift in society and holding strong grievances, the FBI concludes. Better efforts to recognize, report, and help potential attackers would be “incredibly valuable” in preventing attacks.

To help root such individuals in neighborhoods and homes, says Vikram Patel of Harvard University’s School of Public Health, they need counseling on the quality of social relations. “Many people will mock the idea of love being a potent medicine,” he writes, but love is the “most powerful intervention.”

And there is nothing more local than a loving relationship.

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