Mass Shootings and Mass Media

Aug. 6, 2019
Editorial Director, veteran police officer and Active Shooter Response instructor, Lt. Frank Borelli, talks about our loss of focus in discussing active shooter events. Remove the political and emotional saturation and have a rational talk.

Yes, I realize the irony of taking to my keyboard to type anything about mass media that is critical. After all, as the Editorial Director for the Officer Media Group, I am a part of that mass media. The additional reality is that I’m often critical of myself and our publishing group is always looking at the job we do, how we do it and – ultimately – what is or isn’t of benefit to the community we serve. As you read the following, please keep in mind that I AM a brother officer with over 36 years of experience now.

First, I’d like to point out how this morning my social media feeds and most of the mainstream media I’ve seen (which is limited because I try to avoid it) is focusing on “the new gun control debate.” I find this both odd and amusing for a couple of reasons. From my perspective, the “gun control debate” was settled about the same time the Revolutionary War was concluded. The only time we have a gun control debate now, and it still always ends the same way, is when people want some spotlight time so they start calling for an infringement of the 2nd Amendment and they garner attention. Some politician needs a vote? They just start bleating about how we need to ban all “assault weapons.” Some “community leader” isn’t getting enough screen time? They make a racially charged comment about how guns only kill certain people or how certain demographics are always the ones paying the price for “American’s love of guns.” Some foreigner’s television show ratings dropping? They just go on a tear about how America has a societal problem and it’s existed since we so stupidly removed ourselves from British rule. Go back and read that entire paragraph and tell me where ANY of it has to do with 1) the victims killed or injured in El Paso or Dayton, or 2) supporting the law enforcement professionals who responded to such, or 3) warnings about being alert for copycat actors who all too often raise their ugly heads after these events. (Indeed, some folks are blaming the Dayton shooter’s attack on the El Paso shooter.)

Second, I find it interesting that while so many people are willing to argue gun control, few to none are willing to discuss solutions that might actually be effective but would mean increases in investigative and training budgets within the law enforcement community… and I don’t mean to provide training just to law enforcement professionals. I am not belittling my law enforcement family in any way when I say that while we are the first professional responders, the people on scene when an attack occurs… the potential victims… are the true first responders. They are already there and can take action to remove themselves from the scene, secure the scene from further attack, or neutralize the shooter.

This is another large argument I see among all of the internet pundits – even the ones who have never done anything beyond playing Call of Duty. Should armed citizens engage an active shooter? Is such engagement beneficial or detrimental to the overall safety of the attack scene? Wouldn’t such citizen involvement potentially shorten such attacks and thereby save lives? Wouldn’t such involvement just create more flying bullets which could potentially hit other bystanders and create more casualties unnecessarily? Different people hold different opinions and that’s true of damned near any topic you can think of. In this case I default to the position that no person should ever be denied their right to self-defense and if they can, along the way, save the lives of others, it’s immoral for us to try to stop them.  That said, back to the investigative and response training budgets…

The number one best way to stop these mass attacks is to prevent them. This is true of every mass attack, no matter the tool used to commit the violence. Think about the lives that could be saved if the hijackers had been stopped before boarding planes on September 11th, 2001. Think about the lives that could have been saved if Timothy McVeigh had been stopped from ever loading up that panel truck in Oklahoma City. Think about how radically different our current protocols might be if Harris and Klebold had been stopped from committing their attack before that fateful morning on April 20, 1999. Now… stop and think about how those three attacks were all committed using different weapons of violence and destruction. Planes… an improvised explosive device (IED - albeit a big one) and firearms / more IEDs.

Then the question becomes, why don’t we prevent more? There are two challenges here: the first challenge is that we have no idea how many are actually prevented as there is no reporting mechanism for such. Additionally, a prevented attack is rarely “big news” so we – and by “we” I mean law enforcement professionals nationwide of any size agency – could be stopping them / preventing them by the hundreds and it simply won’t be big news. The second challenge is that the only 100% full proof way of preventing them is to see into a person’s soul. Until such a day comes that we can simply look at a person and see good or evil as a reality within their motivational existence, we can’t stop all evil. Please let’s agree on this one thing: every mass attack, no matter the motivation, is evil. There is simply no good reason – ever – for killing innocent unarmed people. Even in declared wars we try to limit/avoid “collateral damage.” The final piece of this preventing more challenge is that we don’t pay enough or give enough attention to the people who are the most empowered and capable of preventing the attacks: those people who know the attackers and those people who will end up potential victims.

I know of one commercial company – Strategos International – owned and operated by former police officers, that focuses on training potential victims how to avoid being victims. They focus on minimizing the target pool, recognizing threats, preventing attacks before they occur. They are empowering people to fight back in every way up to and including returning violent action.

And this is something else we need to address as a society. Our children are just as likely to be punished in school for defending themselves as they are for bullying someone. This boggles the mind. If a bully attacks a victim, the school administration is just as likely to punish them both for fighting, but only if the victim fights back in self-defense. What’s the lesson learned? Don’t fight back. Don’t defend yourself. This has been our reality for an entire generation now… for 25 years… and we’re surprised that the personal crime rate is going up? We’ve educated an entire generation of willing victims who depend on others to protect them and we’re surprised when potential victims willingly accept BEING victims?

I applaud Strategos International for the work they do. I applaud every law enforcement agency that goes out into the community and educates groups on how to prevent, minimize nor mitigate attacks and to report anything they find to be suspicious. I am NOT calling for a bunch of “red flag” laws, nor am I encouraging ANY community to restrict anyone’s right to self-defense or what tools they use for that purpose. I AM encouraging the following:

Don’t lose focus on the discussion and don’t argue. Arguments decide who is right while discussion decides what is right. Big difference there. The discussion should be about how to prevent attacks and reduce the victim pool if one occurs. The number one way to reduce victim count is to change the mindset of those who might be targeted.

Remember as you read or watch your mainstream media “news” that most of what’s being “reported” isn’t news reporting. It’s commentary on the arguments occurring between politicians and social media pundits. What celebrities have to say about societal values isn’t news.

Try to remove all of the sensationalistic words from any discussion and see how it affects the emotional impact. Rational discussion requires rational vocabulary. When you start trying to increase the impact of your words by using sensationalistic terms, your discussion loses integrity and overall value. It soon devolves into an argument about what is more important to the people arguing.

Remember this above all else: The only person in the world responsible for your safety is YOU. If you choose to live your daily life blindly happy and believing that everything around you is peaches and cream… that’s your choice. If you choose to have some sense of awareness and remain alert to potential threats, that’s your choice. If you legally can and choose to be vigilant, carrying a licensed firearm and prepared to defend yourself through the educated and trained use thereof, that’s your choice. Whatever circumstance you find yourself in, recognize that how you have prepared to respond to it and how you do respond to it are a matter of personal choice.

Don’t let anyone – me, a politician, a social media pundit or some talking head on the “news” tell you any different. Don’t let the discussion get derailed. The conversation about mass attacks is a conversation about personal safety for the victims… and let’s never forget the personal safety our responding law enforcement professionals set aside as they run toward the threat to save lives.

About the Author

Lt. Frank Borelli (ret), Editorial Director | Editorial Director

Lt. Frank Borelli is the Editorial Director for the Officer Media Group. Frank brings 20+ years of writing and editing experience in addition to 40 years of law enforcement operations, administration and training experience to the team.

Frank has had numerous books published which are available on Amazon.com, BarnesAndNoble.com, and other major retail outlets.

If you have any comments or questions, you can contact him via email at [email protected].

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