El Dorado County DA column: Science, not partisan politics, should guide our reaction to gun violence (opinion)
In the wake of more senseless violence in our country, we see our politicians taking their now-familiar position on their soapboxes to lament their party opponents’ inaction.
We need less grandstanding and more real response. While California Gov. Gavin Newsom is busy pointing fingers, AB 17221 — an Assembly bill based on science and focused on preventing gun violence — languishes in the Appropriations Committee. If Newsom wants people to act, perhaps he should begin by leading by example and passing this critical piece of legislation.
In the aftermath of the atrocities in Gilroy, California on July 28, and in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio, on Aug. 3 and 4, the Los Angeles Times published an op-ed titled, “We have studied every mass shooting since 1966. Here’s what we’ve learned about the shooters.”
The valuable take-away of this article, written by a psychologist and professor of criminology along with a sociologist and professor of criminal justice, is that there are four commonalities they were able to identify among mass shooters. Those four common traits can be summarized as: 1) early childhood trauma and the potential resulting mental illnesses; 2) an identifiable crisis point; 3) a fascination with other mass shooters; and 4) means and opportunity.
While Assembly Bill 1722, written by myself and Assemblyman Kevin Kiley, was drafted to combat school shootings, it is based largely on the same premise that the researchers in the Times article identified: spotting the warning signs, alerting to the crisis point and, most importantly, giving teachers, school officials, and law enforcement the tools they need to react.
The goal of AB 1722 was to step away from the seemingly ever-present partisan politics surrounding discussions on gun violence and, instead, to utilize decades’ worth of scientific research on the subject to work toward a real solution.
According to the Secret Service National Threat Assessment Center (NTAC), the FBI, LAPD and the work of others, including Dr. Reid Meloy, it’s clear that identifying and managing threats in a coordinated, multi-disciplinary approach before an incident occurs will save lives.
AB 1722 was based on the recommended best practices put forth by these experts, which include a central reporting mechanism for suspicious behaviors and a process that ensures information is promptly evaluated by a multi-disciplinary team. More importantly, the best practices include procedures to ensure that the recommendations of the threat management team, including therapy and other treatment, are implemented.
They also recommend taking steps to guard against further isolating such persons through archaic and illogical disciplinary processes such as “zero tolerance.”
The shooters in all three of these recent tragedies were young men between the ages of 19 and 24. What warning signs might have been noticed by their teachers and school officials while they were still in school? What kind of intervention might have been possible had an early warning system like that proposed by AB 1722 been in place?
Newsom, no more finger pointing. A credible first step in combatting this crisis is withering away in the Appropriations Committee because of partisan politics.
It’s time to take action and pass AB 1722 and set us on the path of preventing these tragedies rather than using this senseless loss of life as another political talking point.
Vern Pierson is the El Dorado County district attorney.
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