See Something… Say Something — A Sad New World.

Well, this will be a departure from normal photo topics.  But once again a horrible event has happened and I’ve had people ask for my opinion, given my somewhat unusual and rambunctious past and my book  on making schools safer from school shooters.  The event was the shooting in Gilroy, CA at the annual Garlic Festival there.  Unless you were a vampire on a personal jihad, what could possibly bring one to open fire on festival goers and in the process kill kids?

As usual there is the knee jerk responses blaming the tools.  But media was oddly quiet on details about the shooter since, it turned out, he was possibly an adherent of a very strange “Might makes Right” concept that make Themistocles and Ayn Rand look like toddlers in a sandbox squabbling over a lost rattle.   On his computer were posts instructing people to read an obscure novel glorified by white supremacists: “Might Is Right,” published under the pseudonym Ragnar Redbeard (real name, Arthur Desmond).  The book, published in 1890, includes discredited principles related to social Darwinism that have been used to justify racism, slavery and colonialism.

His hero, Ragnar, was also a fervent anti-Christian and since that does not fit the media’s current political narrative, little is mentioned of it.  His own social media screeds are full of it as well as a singular hatred for Silicon Valley the spiritual home of the equipment he used to rant on about… that spiritual home.  He used a weapon (utterly mislabeled in the media) that is illegal to own in California, so those prohibitive laws proved useless.  But meanwhile the wringing hands crowd goes off on guns and right-wing extremists and racists, none of which is really applicable here.  The FBI insists that the conflicted writing collected by the young killer has not allowed them to say with certainty if any particular ideology drove the incident.  That means it could have been something very personal as it frequently is.  But even if we do not know the precise reason, we are left with the critical question of how do we stop this type of carnage?

One can argue that its occurrences are vastly over-reported, and while that is factually true, it completely misses the point: it should not be happening AT ALL.  There is really no acceptable number of mass killings that should slip under the radar of a civilized culture.  So, what can we do to try to minimize or, better yet, eliminate the occurrences?

In my book on school shooters, where most of the shooters are essentially kids themselves, I argued that our modern culture in its material quests and worship of things material by media and entertainment have created a world in which parents are overwhelmed trying to keep up, to provide the things they seem to think are important and for which the kids clamor, and in the process have created an environment where the perception of the child is one of rejection and abandonment.  It is pointless to argue from the adult perspective that the parents are doing it “for the kids” to better their lot because whether or not it is true (and I personally suspect it is not true more often) the only perspective that counts is that of the child.  Giving the kid everything they say they want, protecting them and carrying them even into semi-adulthood often simply fuels the sense of abandonment because what they REALLY want is the attention, love, respect, and guidance of the parent.  Buying them off with the latest fashion or toy is not a substitute for those things.  Following the shootings at Columbine (I was close by when that happened and was on contract with the Denver Police when that happened so got some good insight into it) it was found that one of the kids was making their pipe bombs in the family’s garage and components were found laying around.   Neither parent noticed.  Indeed they would often go on vacations and simply ask neighbors to look in on them to make sure they were OK.

And as the child gets angrier and angrier at the sense of rejection his babysitter, the TV, tells him clearly that the appropriate outlet for such abuse and its righteous rage is violence and the elimination of the sources of that anger.  We are all familiar with the concept of a kid throwing a tantrum to get attention and instead of discipline the overwhelmed parent often gives in and gives the kid what they want.  That is a life’s lesson for the young mind.  This is a simple escalation of that concept.  In order to achieve some form of recognition for their efforts they seek to generate violence in which they “win” by scoring the highest body count precisely as do many of the video games they play endlessly.  And even if killed in the process they know the news media will breathlessly and publicly tell of their successes as if singing their praises and at last, even if in death, they will finally be recognized for doing and being something special.

In short, I argued that our culture and its modern liberal parenting are manufacturing these shooters wholesale and until we address that issue, no focus on tools will have much of an effect.  The problem, of course, is that our culture will have none of that and, I predict, will continue to be unwilling to change any of it which, to me, shows that the gathering of family goodies is not and was not ever really about the kids and their needs and well-being.  At its core this is an issue of parenting and as such would require a review of issues like ethics and values and morality unlikely to take place anytime soon.

I would argue that these adult killers are simply individuals whose final straw was not loaded onto their psyches while they were still in school so their target operate in different environments.  But if we are socially unwilling to change and try to slow down the creation of these killers, what does that leave us as viable means to try to lower the incidences of mass shootings whether at school or elsewhere?

The most common idea, after banning tools, is to create workable defense mechanisms.  This was especially true regarding school shootings when all manner of hare-brained ideas were floated around for “hardening” the facilities from metal detectors at the doors to putting an officer on each floor.  My book deals with those in detail… and rejects them.  Another idea, now adopted by Utah and several local jurisdictions, as examples, is to allow teachers to be trained and armed.

This may come as an enormous surprise to people who know me, but I’m not solidly behind this idea.  I accept that in many public locations it is possible – possible – that an armed AND TRAINED citizen could stop the shooter before law enforcement arrives (statistically about 10 minutes after the call) and more innocent people are killed.  But expecting a teacher to fire on a student, even one actively killing other students, is to ask them to throw away everything holy to good teachers who put kids’ safety first and have never ever faced death in a fire fight or never, like many combat vets, seen kids set explosive traps that killed their friends and comrades.

In fact, to be fair, I know several teachers who are vets or ex cops that I’d love to know were armed but they are the rare exceptions.  Their often-unfortunate experiences allow them to see the action and throw the internal switch that changes the shooter from a kid and perhaps known student into a wanton killer that must be stopped with whatever means it takes.  Most of my colleagues, on the other hand, are nice enough individuals but the idea of them packing a weapon would scare me to death.  I’m not convinced many of them could make that transition in time to save others and perhaps even save themselves.  Returning fire while under fire is not like a range exercise, no matter how complex or “realistic.”  No range target is likely to kill the shooter if they miss or delay.

Having a bullet fired in anger go by your ears for the first time is a life altering event and the common response is to freeze, soil your undies, and thank God you are alive rather than to return deliberate well-aimed fire.  And it is even less fun if you are hit.  Unlike the westerns where an arm shot or shoulder shot was waved off as a flesh wound with a brave declaration of, “…they only winged me!” getting hit with modern ammunition can turn even a non-fatal wound into an experience with pain — from torn flesh and hydrostatic shock as internal muscles are ripped apart by the pressure wave — the likes of which few have ever known; and it will stop virtually anyone not high on some contraband substance or hardened with precious experiences, right in their tracks.  You’re not sure if you are terrified of another shot or you want to stand up and embrace a good one so it will stop the pain.

Ego driven Concealed Carry Permits aside, a real gunfight is not a place any rational human wants to be and if their training is not so constant and well honed that they can respond automatically, a phenomenon called by some, “psychotachia” will slow down their perception of the world, create very narrow tunnel vision, and overwhelm them with so much adrenaline that based on skill alone they could not predictably hit the Pentagon at ten paces with a blunderbuss.  This person is not the one you want protecting the classroom with a small gun of questionable accuracy in their shaking hands when all fine motor skills are gone.  Additionally, no one with any combat experience would want to go into an expected firefight armed only with a weapon that can be easily concealed.

Besides, simply making this type of activity an extremely hazardous occupation has little meaning to the perpetrator because most mass shooters expect to be killed in the process.  It is their lasting story and score that is important as a legacy.  Those things and the attendant fame, they believe, will live on beyond them; and until we can convince the media and the consumers of media to make them anonymous except in the most negative of ways, it will continue.  Until we quit rewarding their deadly tantrums as they wish, until we stop trying to remove negative consequences from negative behaviors and choices and get over the idea of situational ethics, it will continue unabated.

So if we as a culture will not remedy the manufacturing of shooters, and we cannot really eliminate the incidences on the spot, what is left in the meantime?  Are we helpless?  I don’t think so.  What we can do is learn what is needed to give us as individuals and groups a better chance at surviving such an event.  And it begins long before the event starts.  It begins for the potential victims with a skill set based on the acquisition of “Situational Awareness.”

Every shooter for whom we have data has, it turns out, left a clear set of preliminary indicators that they were building to some horrific act.  And all of them fell within the limits of certain required conditions (according to their own perceptions).

Every one of them!

There may have been some trigger that set them off and makes it appear almost spontaneous, but it never really is. The old cliché that you hear all the time when someone is trying to make sense of what to them is a senseless act is that the perpetrator, “just snapped.”  That is NEVER true.  Never.

That final act has been building usually over a long period of time until some final incident occurs that pushes them over the top.  What unfolds, after an analysis of every  mass or school shooter, reveals that the shooting (or bombing or knifing, etc.) is the result of long hours spent sulking and pouting over their perceived grievances and thinking about their action to make it right; planning it in their minds, studying everything they can that will help them prepare, gathering and or making their tools, often ranting their manifesto speeches in social media or to their friends (or enemies), often casing the possible locations to exact their retribution and reckoning.

What is important is this:  ALL of those steps leave tracks.

But if that is true why do we not see them?  The answer is simple… we have.  But we don’t want to believe what they tell us.  Huxley wrote that humans tend to believe what they tend to prefer.  How can that be when we all see the same things?  Well… no we don’t.  Studies have shown that we do not really see with our eyes, we see with our brain.  And the brain “sees” only a fraction of the potential sensory input available to avoid overwhelming us.  It filters the rest out.  Based on what?  Preference and a firm and desperate grip on its unique sense of what is “normal” which it will try to retain and accept contradictions to that only when some huge jolt of reality forces us to do so.

What about mental illness?  Well, in the Secret Service study of the shootings in 2018 it turns out only a very few of the killers were currently suffering any related mental illnesses.  But…  ALL of them had a history of symptoms reflecting deep issues related to mental health problems from depression to addictions. Some were evaluated but found not to have issues serious enough for treatment.  But, and what is important here, they HAD been evaluated because someone noted what was, to them aberration behavior.  Many had been treated and pronounced “cured” or put on meds which they stopped taking.  But in the end, mental illness was just one of the indicators to be fed into the mix to determine if the tracks you were following were likely leading to a shooting or not, but alone was not determinate.

In his best selling book, author and security consultant (to government, corporate, and celebrity clients) Gavin DeBecker gets deep into the weeds to give very detailed data on these conditions and indicators along with actual case histories to support his firm’s approach and conclusions.  The book is called “The Gift of Fear,” and if this subject is important to you, if you spend time in places that have historically been the types of places targeted for mass killings,  then that book and several others he has written or recommended on the subject are ones you really need to read.  But they are long and unpleasant reads because they take you into minds’ dark places most of us would prefer not to go.

However the bottom line of his and others’ studies clearly show that we all see those tracks; we all understand them on a subconscious level, we all have an internal sense or intuition that makes us apprehensive or uneasy, and justifiably so… but we ignore it and go on about our lives following our concepts of normal.

This is a blog entry not a book and there is not a reasonable amount of time here to go into detail on the indicators or conditions that spawn these incidences.  If you would like me to expand on them then let me know.  But I cannot over-emphasize this: if you spend time in schools or businesses or government offices or public events or restaurants or places of worship, etc. where these incidences have happened, sometimes more than once, and if you’d like to better your chances of survival should an incident occur near you, then this grim topic, horrible as it is to contemplate, is something you need to take seriously and inform yourself as best you can.

Our world is changing as values and ethics teaching is evaporating, as parents become more overwhelmed by work and the material world, as new media rewards bad behavior with exposure, as the entertainment media continues to glorify violence as a viable solution to problems, and as social media and video games makes us less sensitive, less sympathetic, and less empathetic to others who look or just think differently than we do, then I believe these types of incidences will continue to happen and may even escalate in frequency.

You basically have three optional ways to deal with it.

  1. You can ignore it and assume it will not happen to you so there is no point in talking about such unpleasant topics.
  2. You can be overwhelmed by it, live in fear and deep anxiety and have your life ruined by something that is still – so far – a fairly rare.
  3. You can accept the reality of this possibility and learn what you can do to better your odds of survival should it happen so you can live your life aware but not debilitated by fear.

The third option involves two areas of training.  The first is to learn to let your intuition show you warning signs and then act on them – to do as the signs say, “If you see something, say something.”  The second is to take as much training as you can get in dealing with active shooter scenarios such as the “A.L.I.C.E.” training or the “R.H.F” approach.  Learn to see the signs that let you avoid the danger as much as possible, then learn the approaches that will enhance your chances of survival if you find it happening around you.

It’s a truly sad thing that in the early part of the 21st century in the United States that we should have to even think of these things much less seriously need to prepare for them.  But we ignore that reality at our own and our loved ones’ peril.

At least that is my opinion on the subject for those that asked…



About ndking

Commercial Photographer and Professor of Photography at San Diego City College
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4 Responses to See Something… Say Something — A Sad New World.

  1. Don Rowe says:

    You wrote and said what needs written and said. Today is a far cry from the time we grew up. I am thankful my two daughters are responsible adults because they knew they were loved, and likewise for my grandchildren, with the youngest having turned twenty-one in May. Shocking, isn’t David. Parents have a very short time to mold the character of their children. And in my opinion, if you don’t have the time, money, or will to mold children into responsible adults, don’t have them. Many thanks for this article, David.

  2. ndking says:

    I appreciate the comment. I think it is truly sad and wish there was some likelihood that it could change. A lot of innocent people and kids will pay dearly for our unability — or unwillingness — to deal with it.

  3. Pingback: I Wish I could Say I Was Surprised… | Travels with Rocinante

    • ndking says:

      Yes it is but we’ve consciously and purposefully, if ignorantly made it into the world that it is with all the correct benign rationales. We simply forgot or ignored on inescapable element in our feel good philosophies: humans and human nature as developed and evolved over millennia. And now we may be getting a horrific lesson and a very poor grade on our test.

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