It was barely a week ago that shots were fired at a car near the Empire Mall in Sioux Falls. Its driver, an 18-year-old local, later died at the hospital after being shot in the head.
While this incident may not be considered a mass shooting, the attack itself was one that initiated a level of fear that has become all too familiar for Americans. There’s a shooter, and they’re near a mall full of vulnerable customers.
It is difficult not to jump to the worst conclusions after 271 active shooting events have been documented by the New York Police Department from 1966-2012 at locations that include schools, churches, office buildings and malls.
More and more alternatives are being developed to deal with active shooter scenarios, including a program featured in this newspaper dubbed ALICE, which stands for: alert, lockdown, inform, counter and evacuate.
Devised in 2001 by Greg Crane, a police officer from Texas, this program has made its way to the schools and offices of Vermillion in the past year and potentially offers a way to fight back against an attacker.
In the wake of shootings such as Sandy Hook Elementary and Virginia Tech, it is no surprise that law enforcement is encouraging a more proactive approach by people stuck in the crossfire of an active shooter. So, the community is turning to ALICE, a five-part approach to train potential victims how to react if the worst occurs.
For some background on the program, here’s a brief look at the structure of the training. The “alert” element advises that everyone get to a safe, guarded place before they inform the police of the intruder, while “lockdown” encourages people to secure themselves by barricading the doors with desks or shelves to prevent entrance until police arrive. “Inform” is pretty self-explanatory and relates to letting police know, while “evacuate” means relocation.
The “C”, which stands for the counter element, however, is what has caused the most division between experts. In this step, if people are near the active shooter — such as in the gym or classroom — they are encouraged to look for and use whatever object happens to be around to defend themselves. Granted, this is a last resort solution and one that law enforcement advises in extreme and dire circumstances.
The real concern for this counter tactic is how young is too young when it comes to defending oneself against an attacker? Should elementary kids be taught to throw canned goods at an assailant or middle schoolers to use their lunch boxes to throw at a gunman? Does this tactic encourage fear-mongering in schools and communities that the threat of an attacker is constant and ever-present?
While we could go more into the ALICE program and its effect on local schools, we think that active shooter training, while helpful, is kind of beside the point when it comes to armed attacks. As much research as can be done by the Department of Homeland Security about how to stop a shooter in an office, what about the two glaring social problems that lead to these incidents: mental health and gun control.
The United States spends $113 billion on mental health treatment, reports a 2011 paper in the journal, Health Affairs. That works out to about 5.6 percent of the national healthcare spending, and the majority of mental health dollars go toward prescription drugs and outpatient treatment.
Not to mention that access to mental health care is worse than other types of medical services. The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimated in 2010 that the country had 156,300 mental health counselors, and 89.3 million Americans live in federally-designated Mental Health Professional Shortage Areas. Compared to other shortage areas, 55.3 million Americans living in primary-care shortage areas and 44.6 million in dental health shortage areas.
In South Dakota, mental health care is reaching a level of discontent. A Jan. 15 report from KSFY read that police officers around the state believe mental health crisis are becoming more common, and they can often become very dangerous for both officers and the person involved.
Maybe it could be argued that the people who commit mass shootings are just psychotic or bad people, but the fact that 83 percent of active shooters kill themselves or are killed by law enforcement should be warning enough that these individuals are to the point in their mental state that they welcome death.
As for slack gun laws, this is not a new debate. Are we suggesting that the government takes away all the guns? No. But that fact that an AR-15 rifle is the most popular rifle sold in the U.S. today and can fire between 45 and 60 rounds per minute depending on the skill of the operator, begs the question, what else would this be used for beside killing?
Much discussion has already been had about expanding background checks for better gun control, but unfortunately, even the massacre of elementary school students cannot be enough to convince people of the inherent danger of keeping semi-automatics in one’s home.
We commend law enforcement for taking the initiative to train the community on the best response to deal with an active shooter, but we ask our community to also be reticent to what leads these people to become cold-blooded killers in the first place.