A Report From The Secret Service On How To Stop Most Mass Shooters


A police officer talks to people asking for information outside the Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, May 24, 2022. (AP Photo/Dario Lopez-Mills, File)

I’m a big fan of the LASR App and SIRT dry-fire training pistols, and regularly get e-mails from them with useful training information. They recently shared a great resource that gives us some important information in the wake of the Uvalde shooting. They didn’t provide a lot of commentary, but they did give us a link to a report by the U.S. Secret Service’s National Threat Assessment Center.

The topic? Preventing mass killings in schools. You can download the report directly here (PDF).

The key takeaway can quickly be found in the Director’s Message and Executive Summary sections of the report: The key findings of the study are clear and consistent: “Individuals contemplating violence often exhibit observable behaviors, and when community members report these behaviors, the next tragedy can be averted.

This finding is one among many commonalities exhibited by people who engage in mass violence at schools. A history of problems with the school’s administrators and/or law enforcement, being the target of bullying or displaying signs of mental health problems, the intention to commit suicide, drug and/or alcohol use, and adverse childhood experiences were the biggest common factors.

Obviously, we can’t assume that every kid with some or all of these problems is the next mass shooter, but it does give us a good indication of who we need to be looking out for in the community because they need our help. Getting kids with these indicators on a better path early keeps them from even considering escalating to violence.

How Do We Do That?

The report didn’t stop at identifying indicators to look out for. It went on to give evidence-based ideas on how to actually help. You should read the whole report, but I will cover a few of the findings that stood out.

The most important thing is that this kind of violence is preventable without turning our whole society into an authoritarian hellhole. By targeting our attention toward people who are in need of help and being extra careful with kids who are talking about violence, we can interrupt the path toward violence without needing to worry about what will or won’t pass in Congress or what might survive court challenges.

Another thing is that other kids are the people best situated to let us know that something is seriously wrong with one of their classmates. As adults, we’re too disconnected and excluded from their social circles and trust circles to always see things that are happening. We need to encourage kids to let us know about possible indicators of violence early, and be sure they know the goal is to help their friend, not put them into the school-to-prison pipeline.

Finally, families play a central role in solving these problems (and, in many cases, play a central role in creating them). Strong families are the best way to prevent these kinds of tragedies, and we need to be more supportive of in-tact families in society. This probably seems obvious to readers, but it’s something that’s easy to forget and difficult to accomplish.

As I said, there’s a lot more in the report, and I recommend checking it out.

An Important Alternative To Gun Control

Taking care of our kids and the families they come from should be a top priority in any serious attempt to prevent mass killings in the future, and all of us have to put in the work here. For example, when we see a single parent struggling, extended family, friends, and the community at large needs to step up and help make sure the kids get the support they need to grow into healthy adults.

We also need to be cautious to not let politics get in the way of taking care of the most vulnerable kids. I won’t go too deeply into that here, but it’s important to support all families in the community instead of judging them and looking for ways to make some of their lives harder, which is something that government policies frequently do. Doing anything but offering honest love and support for our friends neighbors can only make this problem worse.

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