Technologies to mitigate mass shootings are available, if only we’d use them
Following the tragic mass shooting in Boulder, Colo., — which capped off a solid week of mass shootings across the country — the Biden administration began to take the country’s temperature on gun control by openly speaking about intentions to move forward with universal background checks and an assault weapons ban.
Unfortunately, since neither universal background checks nor an assault weapons ban will eliminate the active shooter threat from ever happening again, it is time to focus on the role that available and affordable technologies can play in helping to mitigate and respond to shooting attacks in supermarkets, office buildings, houses of worship, schools, airports and anywhere else where innocent lives may be at risk.
There is growing consensus within the U.S. that something needs to be done to help to prevent these despicable acts from happening and that everything possible should be done to keep guns out of the hands of the wrong people — 90 percent of Americans, including lawful gun owners, support universal background checks.
While thorough scrutiny of a person’s background to determine the existence of a criminal history and/or history of mental illness prior to a gun purchase is the right thing to do, it will not stop mass shootings. As history has demonstrated, almost all mass shootings are conducted using legally obtained weapons purchased directly by the attacker, a family member, or friend. Similarly, if an assault weapon ban is imposed by Congress or through an executive order by the president, it is unlikely to impact current owners of these types of weapons and the mass shooter threat still remains.
It is time for the Department of Homeland Security and Department of Justice to put forth a coordinated strategy to leverage offices within their departments to educate private sector partners about the availability of vetted security technologies. They must work with communities to further incentivize deployment of those technologies through programs and grants that are either currently unknown to city governments and the general public, or too costly to implement on their own.
As an additional line of defense, there is no doubt that technology can help detect, disrupt and deter someone that has their mind set on causing a mass casualty event. And in the instance that an attack is not stopped, technology can aid both people being targeted who find themselves in the wrong place at the wrong time and law enforcement by providing the necessary information to help stop the act quickly without further loss of life — including the lives of responding officers.
As a start in the technology space, social media companies need to do more to help identify and report threats before deadly shootings take place. How many times does the public have to hear following an incident that law enforcement is going to need to review the social media accounts of an attacker to see if any previous threats or other concerning statements were made to indicate that an attack was imminent, only to find that there were? Let’s think about this — social media companies can use their analytics to tell each of us that we might be interested in purchasing a specific item based on each of our online behaviors, but somehow don’t have the analytic capacity to forewarn law enforcement and save lives?
It’s time for Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act to be rewritten to hold social media companies accountable for content written on their sites. While I agree they are not responsible for what is published by users, they are providing an environment that is currently being exploited and used in certain cases for ill intent. As a result, these companies have an oversight responsibility and duty to report concerning posts in a timely manner in the spirit of public safety. Suspending a user’s account for violating internal policies does not equate to quickly notifying authorities.
Communities and businesses should also start protecting themselves by deploying indoor and outdoor gunshot detection systems the same way they install cameras. While security cameras are an essential security technology used virtually everywhere, they are only as useful as the people monitoring the systems or when used to review an incident after it has already occurred. Gunshot detection is an immediately actionable technology that can save lives. The technology takes automation many steps further by confirming a gunshot, triggering public address and alarm systems to alert building occupants so they can find the best route to safety via run, hide, fight — even before the first call to 911 is ever made. Further, gunshot detection systems can be integrated with local police departments, alerting them to identified gunshots and providing detailed location and movements of a shooter to allow for a faster and effective police response.
Mass emergency notification systems in all cities is also a must. Used as an opt-in for citizens, communities will be shocked to learn just how many people will sign up for information regarding all threats and hazards — to include active shooter incidents. Imagine being told to stay away from a certain location because of an ongoing incident via a text message from your local police department. In short, this is the fastest and easiest way for communities to communicate to the masses!
There are many other types of technologies available on the market that can assist communities prior to and during an active shooter threat. I am well aware that this technology costs money and the fact I am writing about this is a sad commentary regarding the direction of our country. Some may also think that this is an overblown response to the active shooter threat. But is it overblown if this was one of our family members?
Unfortunately, this is the reality we live in and until our country drastically changes for the better, we owe this to the people that lost their lives in Boulder and those that have lost their lives before them. We should never accept that when people simply decide to live their lives and go food shopping, or to school, or work, or to worship, that they run the risk of being gunned down and never coming home. If technology can help mitigate tragic events from happening and reduce the loss of life when they do, that will be the return on investment.
Charles Marino is the CEO of Sentinel Security Solutions, a global security and crisis management firm, and previously served as a supervisory special agent with the U.S. Secret Service and as senior law enforcement adviser to Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano. He regularly appears as a homeland and national security analyst on cable news networks.