Let’s Address this Issue of Violence “Prevention,” Part 1

I am very proud to have over 4,600 Linkedin connections; the majority, of which, are security and/or law enforcement professionals.  Over 2,500 of you have been gracious enough to endorse my work.  Now, I would like to take our combined body of knowledge and expertise to address some of the more significant deficits in our approach to “preventing violence.”  It is said that security and law enforcement can only react or respond to violence, I disagree!  

Each of you are responsible for keeping your clients or constituencies safe, yet we continue to have these rare but significant rampage shootings that shake the American psyche to its core.  While many train for active shootings, I would like to focus on avenues for “prevention.”

With the most recent advent of the Navy Yard shooting (Aaron Alexis), many of the usual reasons are being flaunted by all the usual experts, yet these shooting persist and we continue to react to them, not prevent them.  I intend to address each of the current methods by discussing their rationale and their weaknesses. I would be very interested in your opinions as to whether you believe my evaluations are on target or how your approach might differ.  Let’s have a civil earnest discussion and hopefully we can actually offer substantive solutions.  Although we all know that there is no absolute prevention or predictability, I would like to focus on our ability to “predict” who the next shooter will be.  Since some measure of predictability is essential to prevent the next shooting, let’s attempt to determine the most “reliable” means of predictability.  

Each week, I would like to address another aspect of our attempts to predict who the next shooter will be.

So this week let’s begin by addressing what we all know is the 800 pound gorilla in the room, mental health assessments.  Do mental health assessments offer reliable precursors that suggest who the next shooter will be?  An excellent article by the renowned Dr. Charles Krauthammer, a trained psychiatrist, reports:

On Aug. 7, that same Alexis had called police from a Newport, R.I., Marriott. He was hearing voices. Three people were following him, he told the cops. They were sending microwaves through walls, making his skin vibrate and preventing him from sleeping. He had already twice changed hotels to escape the men, the radiation, the voices.

Delusions, paranoid ideation, auditory (and somatic) hallucinations: the classic symptoms of schizophrenia.

Aaron Alexis clearly has mental health/disorder issues but does this alone indicate that he will be our next shooter?

We know that less than 1% of known schizophrenics have murdered another human being.  How do we get from less than 1%, to this is the next shooter?   Are we going to put all schizophrenics in asylums because 1% might murder others?  Not likely.

In fact, the “Report to the President on Issues Raised by the Virginia Tech Tragedy, June 13, 2007” reported that, “Most people who are violent do not have a mental illness, and most people who have mental illness are not violent.”  What we have learned is that those with mental illness tend to be the victims of this behavior not the perpetrators of it.

In fact Seung-Hui Cho (the Virginia Tech shooter) was evaluated on three different occasions and in each occasion he was deemed to be “Depressed and anxious, but not at risk of hurting himself or others!”   I am not suggesting that murderers do not have mental health issues; I am saying that the state of a person’s mental health is not a reliable predictor of whether this person might become our next murderer.

Further, too often, mental health counselors are not a reliable resource because their methods are too subjective. They use Distressed, Disturbed and Dysregulated and typically, regardless of a duty to warn, they will not share their information because of HIPAA (The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996).  This is further complicated by management, who don’t want to get involved in these complex problems (whether military or civilians) so they would rather offer an Honorable Discharge (military) or offer an excellent recommendation (employer), so as to move the problem to someone else.  This appears to be the case with Aaron Alexis.

I am not suggesting for a moment that counseling is not a worthwhile effort, counselors have, on many occasions, convinced a potential shooters toward more constructive solutions; however, the reasons above are why, when I hear mental health counselors suggest that we must invest more money toward counseling so as to prevent the next shooting, I am skeptical.  Counseling is typically an excellent idea, but in my opinion cannot solely be considered as a relied predictor of who the next shooter will be.

Please share your thoughts, comments or questions . . .

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  1. james

    I am just curious if there is any thought given today to the non-violent responses we have seen in the historical record that seem to work in many of these situations. Clearly, these general behaviors used by nonviolent activists from Gandhi to King and beyond do work in many of the same contexts. In fact, every time non-violent activism was used in World War II DID work. Thousands of Jews were saved. German trains headed for the camps were stopped. The Netherlands kept thousands from being found and apprehended by the Nazis. Even Eichmann was forced to admit that his program was a total failure in Denmark. In the last century, over 60% of humanity was affected by non-violent, national revolutions. But is the ordinary, human to human dynamics that is also effective. It seems that choosing to relate to an unpredictable and potentially violent situation can be done successfully with good communication techniques and an open-hearted and open-ended way to connect with the other that reveals what is alive in both people. It sounds naive, I know. We live in a country that believes violence saves. We practice redemptive violence in our personal lives as well as our national values expressed around the world.

    I have found the truth of non-violence in my own life, as well as studying the “hidden history” of effective nonviolence. It is not for sissies. It is for those who strive for different and imaginative responses to conflict besides giving in or fighting back. It takes courage and the ability to stay in the moment. And it takes a self-education to learn what works and what doesn’t.

  2. John D. Byrnes

    Thank you, James, for your thoughtful comments.  We at the Center believe in the distinction between “Assertive” and “Aggressive” behavior.  In essence, “assertive” individual represents the person who wishes to win by being the best that they can be, whereas, the “aggressive” individual is a person who will win at all costs including taking you out!  What you have described, if I understand it correctly, is the ultimate of “assertive” behavior.  Even at the risk of injury or death, in the case of Gandhi to King, persuade an individual or individuals toward a non-violent constructive result.  I commend your initiative and whole heartily endorse it.

  3. james

    Thank you so much for reading my comment and wrestling with it a bit. There are always many “third alternatives” available for dealing with potentially deadly conflict but they are often provisional and contextual.

    Like the writer/philosopher Goethe once remarked. Everything has been thought of before, the trick is to be able to use it again.

    Your strategies of commonsensical and methodological approaches are the necessary framework on which all other “techniques” must hang. And the more choices that are available to us, the more imaginative, flexible and nimble we can be when we feel overwhelmed and frozen during a difficult and deadly situation.

  4. John D Byrnes

    Yes, James, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe was an epic writer and thinker. I wonder, however, whether with our new-age technology he would remain as steadfast on his belief that all things have already been thought of before.

    We realize that there are a lot of charlatans proclaiming “preventive” methods but upon further examination we have found them to be “reactive” and wanting.  Thank you again for your participation in the critical discussion.

  5. IMHO two pressing issues are HIPAA and the psychotropic drugs prescribed. Understand these two common links to the shooters,and you understand the problem. Although, no one cares to address these points, rather it’s talking points of “gun control” which is BS. And it’s not an issue of spending more money, it’s an issue of people using common sense.

  6. John D. Byrnes

    I agree, John-

    How do you suggest that we get this message out?  Help me spread the word that these topics can be discuss here, by referring your colleagues to the blog.

    Regards, John

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