“What we can do to reduce gun violence? Admit the problems. Use a strategy to attack and prevent homicides.”
Let me ask you a question. Which is the more violent crime; a drive-by shooting of your neighbor’s house (no one hurt) or the local bank branch getting robbed with no gun displayed or fired? Seems pretty simple, the drive by shooting is clearly the more violent crime.
Now, let’s discuss how each incident will be investigated. Police will show up the night of the drive-by shooting and take an initial report. If you don’t know exactly who did the shooting, no detective will be assigned and no follow-up will be conducted. On the other hand, police will show up at the bank robbery, detective to follow, FBI, media, etc. and an investigation will be conducted with the focused goal of catching the bad guy before he strikes again. Seems pretty reasonable. We must catch the bank robber or he will continue and his violence will escalate. But why not the same approach to the drive-by shooting of a house on the wrong side of town?
Now think about the simple fact that people living on the southside of Chicago see this response from law enforcement everyday. Your neighbor’s house gets shot up and, just because no one got hit or killed, police take a quick report and move on. You see it time and time again. No one gets killed, so no big deal. But if someone robs the local bank branch, the police are all over the scene and suddenly resources aren’t an issue. How does that affect community relations?
Law Enforcement needs to take stock on what is really important to the community they serve. I remember ATF Agent Joe Frank explaining to me that he was able to gain the community’s trust in St. Louis by focusing on what was important to them. He let the community know that he wasn’t there for Johnny the Dope Dealer, Timmy the Parole Violator or Steve the Convicted felon. His sole focus was to identify and stop Billy the Kid, who was shooting up the neighborhood every night. By making sure the community understood he was focusing on what was important to them, he gained their trust. He listened to them and had their back. We need to do this on a national scale.
When we dedicate more resources to drugs, parole, bank robberies, car theft, etc., and put criminal shootings at the bottom of the list, we are missing an opportunity to connect with our community on what truly affects them. Keep in mind, these are all really attempted murders, but since they didn’t hit anyone, no foul. We’ve been telling everyone that drugs fuel all shootings, but we know that isn’t true and we have the data to support that now. Most shootings aren’t about drugs; they are about women, respect and old feuds. The goal of getting criminal shooters by targeting drug dealers only makes us lose focus. If this strategy was true, we could easily just focus on the shooters to stop the drugs. But we all know it doesn’t work that way. The same is true for gang members. The goal of getting to the criminal shooters by targeting the gang members only makes us lose focus on the real problem. If this strategy was true, we could then easily just focus on the criminal shooters to stop the gangs.
The solution is to simply take a focused approach to gun violence. With today’s technology, NIBIN (a system that compares digital images of spent shell casings to link shootings), ShotSpotter (an extremely accurate acoustic gunfire detection system), and so old style detective work, we can quickly identify serial shooters to stop them before they commit a murder. This isn’t high-speed intelligence, but old style policing under a strategy called Crime Gun Intelligence. Law Enforcement needs to take the same approach to shootings as the FBI’s approach to terrorism. The goal isn’t to solve a terrorist attack, but to prevent the terrorist attack. While it cannot always be done, we can try to quickly identify, target and address these serial shooters before their violence escalates to injury or murder. A police detective should receive the same praise for catching a kid shooting up the neighborhood as he would for solving a bank robbery. Today, that just isn’t the case.
Let’s move past solving every crime and focus on prevention of more crime Let’s not put all our eggs into one basket on the big cases, but focus on public safety and crime prevention, which is what listening to the community would have us do. There will always be major crimes to solve, however we need to put more resources towards addressing these young men shooting up our inner cities before they commit a murder. Not only can this be viewed as a moral issue, it can also be financially beneficial. The average impact of a murder is estimated to be around $17 million dollars. Not only does this strategy make financial sense, but before you try and fix problems in the inner cities, you must give people living there some sense of safety. Until we realize that gun control isn’t going to solve the problem and drugs aren’t behind every shooting, this violence will continue. The answer is to take every criminal shooting seriously, just like they did in NYC in the 80s.
The Rolling Stone magazine recently released an editorial attacking some of the most common counters to the call for gun control. I think it is only fair to go through their article and give a fair response. I’ve highlighted the Rolling Stones article in blue.
GUN CONTROL IS JUST LIKE PROHIBITION – DIDN’T WORK THEN, DOESN’T WORK NOW
- “Guns don’t kill people. People kill people.” This is a fantastic argument for those who can’t tell the difference between one death and a dozen. Absolutely, a murderer can often kill one person or two with a knife before being stopped. But to really rack up those mind-blowing death counts – to make sure that many lives are destroyed and families ruined in the space of five or 10 minutes – you need a gun. If all you care about is apportioning blame and declaring that someone does or does not have murderous intent, then by all means, claim a knife and a gun are equivalent weapons. For those of us who are more worried about preventing unnecessary deaths than merely acknowledging the hate that resides in some people’s hearts, however, the sheer amount of damage a gun can do is reason to limit who can get their hands on one.
To start this discussion, let me be clear here, I am a retired ATF agent and I’ve been shot by a rifle during the execution of a federal search warrant. In fact, I was shot numerous times. One of the rifles used to shoot me was a Barrett .50 caliber semi-auto rifle. After that rifle blew through an engine block and shattered my leg, I was shot several more time by an assortment of weapons while I lay there bleeding. I was once forced to shoot a suspect during a search warrant of a meth lab because he pointed a rifle at my head. At no time did I think that the gun did this to me. It was the bad guys. On the other hand, I would never question the motivations of someone who has lost a loved one in a shooting. It’s a tragedy and I know they just don’t want anyone else to experience the same pain they have experienced. I also know the reality of facing bad guy with a deadly weapon. The only way I would want to face someone with a deadly weapon is with a gun. Because I was an ATF Agent, I know that guns are legal products and available throughout our nation.
As we debate the gun control issue, we hear the same arguments from arming everyone to banning guns. The difference here is I want you to think about what you really should focus on. Do you focus on the gun or do you focus on the criminal act? I know that seems a little confusing, but please let me explain. When the group “Mothers Against Drunk Drivers” (M.A.D.D.) decided they wanted to stop their children from being killed by drunk drivers, they took their time to develop a strategy. They knew that prohibition wouldn’t work, since it had already failed before. They had to changes the dynamic and solely on focus on their goal to reduce the number of people being killed by drunk drivers. They came up with a strategy that everyone could agree upon. Simply put, they focused on the criminal act of drinking and driving. Not the product of alcohol or the vehicle, but the criminal act. They developed a strategy to find some common ground and changed the law so the criminal act of driving drunk was treated as a crime, not an accident. Here is why this is so important – the harsh reality is criminal shootings in most cities are ignored until someone bleeds or dies. The vast majority of shootings in this nation are never investigated until someone is killed. By focusing on the criminal act of shooting at someone, regardless of accuracy, we could quickly reduce gun violence in this nation. Most citizens have no clue what is really going on around the nation. If your final goal is reduce the number of people being killed, this is your first step.
LIBERALS IGNORE REALITY AND BLAME GUNS
- “The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.“If you prefer pithy sayings to hard evidence, I can see why this would be convincing. But if you look at the real world, you’ll find that far from being our only hope, good guys with guns are barely any help at all. No mass shootings in the past 30 years have been stopped by an armed civilian; in 1982, an armed civilian successfully killed a shooter, but it was only after he committed his crime.
It’s not that there aren’t enough guns, either. There are as many guns as people in this country, and fully a third of people are armed. Even when shootings happen in gun-happy places, where armed people are sure to be nearby, this vigilante scenario simply doesn’t work. That’s because pulling a gun out and shooting back in the chaos of a mass shooting just makes things worse, as was discovered when a would-be hero at the 2011 shooting of Gabby Giffords very nearly shot the wrong man. (The actual shooter was tackled by an elderly man.)
I love the use of logic. I agree that many of these shootings are in locations that would be extremely difficult, if not impossible to stop once they start. From a dark movie theater packed with people to a very crowded dance floor, these are nightmare scenarios to engage a target without injury an innocent. I worked as an investigator on the Aurora Theater shooting and like most law enforcement officers wish I could have been there to stop the carnage. Allowing armed citizens into nightclubs such as the Pulse is something even the NRA is opposed to – “I don’t think we should have firearms where people are drinking,” Wayne LaPierre, the association’s vice president, told CBS on “Face the Nation” Sunday”. This is where so many people get lost in the media hype. The vast majority of “mass shootings” never make the national news and you never hear about them unless you live in the town where they occurred. They happen in the inner cities and usually involve young stupid men committing stupid violent criminal acts. But what also gets forgotten is everyday citizens in this nation are attacked by criminals and some are fortunate enough to be able to defend themselves because they are allowed to arm themselves with a perfectly legal firearm. A better stat to think about is the percentage of guns that will never be used in an actual crime of violence. When we look at the Richmond California Office of Neighborhood Safety back in 2008, many were shocked by the fact the city paid a small number of criminals to stop committing violent shooting crimes. What they should really be shocked about is the extremely small number of criminals committing the vast majority of shooting crimes in a city and by simply identifying them and addressing their behavior, they were able to quickly reduce gun violence. The answer in Richmond wasn’t to punish everyone with a gun, but to identify the people committing the shootings and address their behavior before they committed a murder. This ain’t Rocket Science!
LOGIC DOESN’T SUPPORT GUN CONTROL
- “But, mental health!”
Opponents of gun control love bringing up the problem of inadequate mental health care after a shooting. This is strictly for deflection purposes, as there is no indication that Republicans will ever work on meaningful reform for our mental health systems – which, it’s true, are woefully inadequate. It’s an issue that only matters to them in the immediate aftermath of a shooting – then it’s forgotten, until there’s another shooting. Rinse, repeat.
Also, the “mental health” gambit, in this context, is always vague. What exactly is the plan? Round up everyone with a mental health issue and put them under lock and key? That amounts to 1 in 5 Americans, the vast majority of whom have no violent tendencies. Will we have some kind of extensive mental health registry? A lot of Americans who struggle with mental health are undiagnosed, though, and putting them on a government list that restricts their rights is not a great inducement to get a diagnosis. There are a lot of shooters in this country, so we have some pretty good data on mass shooters. And that data shows there’s no reliable way to tell who is going to go off like this, and only 23 percent of shooters have a diagnosis. Even if all of those individuals got gold-star treatment, the system would only stop a few shooters.
No argument here. I just wish we could get the people who have been adjudicated mentally defective onto a list that would prohibit them from purchasing a firearm from a licensed gun dealer. That would be a nice start. I would love to see the statistics showing the percentage of legal gun owners that will commit a violent criminal act with their firearm. This is a statistic that will never be mentioned because it would show that legal gun owners aren’t a threat. You talk about the percentage of people what only 23 percent of shooters have a diagnosis for a mental health issue. I would guess you are talking about mass shootings that made the major news, not the mass shootings in the inner cities. What percentage of citizens own a firearm and never commit a shooting crime OR a mass shooting? Again, the vast majority of shootings are being committed in the inner cities and ignored. They have nothing to do with armed citizens, people with mental health issues or terrorists. Young stupid men are committing violent criminal shooting over women, respect and old feuds. Since they don’t fit the narrative, they go unreported and ignored until we use these stats to fuel the call for gun control.
RATHER THAN ADDRESS THE ISSUE, LIBERALS ATTACK THE CONSTITUION AND THE 2nd AMENDMENT
- “Second Amendment, baby.”
Here’s a good time to remind everyone that the Second Amendment was written by slaveholders before we had electricity, much less the kind of weaponry that would-be murderers can buy today. But sure, if you think it’s that precious, we can compromise: If you love the Second Amendment that much, feel free to live in a powdered wig and shit in a chamberpot while trying to survive off what you can kill with an 18th century musket. In exchange, let those of us living in this century pass some laws so we can feel safe going to class, or the movies, or anywhere without worrying that some maladjusted man will try to get his revenge by raining death on random strangers.
These are the same men that also wrote the constitution and all the other Amendments that we cherish. Until the Second Amendment is changed, it still stands as the law of the land. It was written for a reason. If you goal is to reduce gun violence, there are so many things that could be done immediately without attacking the 2nd Amendment. We could start by addressing every shooting in Chicago and treat them as an attempted murder and not just a reckless discharge of a firearm. By investigating these shootings thoroughly, we could identify serial shooters and stop the cycle of violence in a short period of time. This is how NYPD reduced shootings and homicides in the 80s. We could upgrade the NICS reporting system to make sure that no prohibited person could purchase a firearm from an FFL because of a poor reporting by law enforcement agencies and a flawed process. We could focus the FBI on targeting terrorists and preventing the next mass shooting or terrorist attack, instead of doing everything under the sun. We could focus ATF on implementing a strategy which targets the criminal serial shooter to prevent the next shooting instead of spending the vast majority of ATF’s resources buying narcotics.
There are so many things we can do immediately to address gun violence that have nothing to do with a fight over the Second Amendment, but instead we fight. We should look at Mothers Against Drunk Drivers as a model. You must first decide what you are trying to accomplish. Is your goal to ban guns or is your goal to make the country safer? Believe it or not, they aren’t the same.
I was a little disappointed you left out the old argument, “Before you come for my guns, the government needs to enforce the laws on the books. Look at all the people being denied by NICS and no one gets prosecuted.” Let’s be honest here. No one gets prosecuted for NICS violations because, one, there is usually no jail time involved and, two, to prosecute all the NICS and Felon in Possession violations around the nation, you would need to triple the size of ATF, the US Attorney’s Office and the Federal Court System, to include judges. Even then it would have no affect on criminal shootings. Again, the harsh reality is the vast majority of criminal shootings in this nation go ignored, reclassified and uninvestigated. What message do you think we send to a young man when he shoots at someone and there is no response by law enforcement? I can tell you and it’s basic playground rules. If you ignore the bully’s bad behavior, he will only continue his behavior and escalate. Others will see this behavior and view it as permissible and copy the behavior. The best way to stop a bully is to have a zero tolerance policy.
So, what does that mean? Today, in Chicago and other major cities, if there is a shooting and police respond and no one is hit, it is doubtful that a police report will even be taken. If a report is taken, it will most likely be classified as a non-violent crime. If someone is hit and a suspect can’t be quickly identified, the case will be closed within 24 to 48 hours. Only if someone is killed will a truly thorough investigation be conducted. This entire process is done on the theory that every shooting is done by one person who will commit this one act of violence, not that a core group of individuals are doing the vast majority of shootings. In fact, if you look at most cities with a serious problem with criminal shootings / gun violence, you will find twice as many detectives and undercover officers working drugs than trying to solve shootings. The theory here is illegal drugs fuel all gun violence and by attacking the drugs, we will stop the shootings. Well…no. We’ve followed this strategy for the past 30 years and it hasn’t worked. In fact, I followed this strategy for most of my career. It wasn’t until I became the National Coordinator for the NIBIN program and started to see what really worked. In reality most of these shootings are occurring over women, respect and old feuds and the vast majority of “mass shootings” occur in the inner cities involving black victims. Most of these victims aren’t involved in gangs or drugs but just collateral damage that didn’t have the financial ability to move away. So while we focus on the highly publicized incidents, the reality is we are ignoring the majority of these incidents because they happen in the inner cities and involve blacks. Allowing citizens the opportunity to defend themselves shouldn’t be a privilege for the white and rich. This should be the real issue for Black Lives Matters. We owe every citizen the opportunity to live in a safe environment. By simply implementing a strategy that focuses on public safety, we can quickly affect a community, much like what happened in Richmond, California.
In closing, the goal shouldn’t be to buy dope or make major cases, but to address the criminal shooter BEFORE he commits a murder. I find this to be a moral issue, but for other is can be easily viewed as a financial issue. The cost of a murder investigation and prosecution can easily exceed $1,000,000.00 so to implement a strategy addressing criminal behavior to prevent a murder isn’t just morally correct, but also makes financial sense. The entire reason many cities reclassify shootings from crimes of violence is to keep crime stats down and the property taxes up. This simple change in the way we are addressing these criminal act cannot only reduce murder and improve our tax base, but avoid this tiresome fight over gun control.
Again, what is your goal?
This article was provided thanks to the support of CCW Safe, the industry leader in Legal Protection for Armed Citizens.
As we look at the recent murder of five military service members at a recruiting station, the church shooting in South Carolina and the 4th of July shootings in Chicago, we hear the familiar cry for more gun control. While we can’t stop every person bent on evil, we can do something about the gun violence plaguing our cities. I understand this call for Gun Control from the people who live on the south side of Chicago. They live with guns everywhere, constant shootings, people bleeding on the streets and murders. It is perfectly reasonable that they want something done to make their community safer, but the reality is they aren’t going to get more gun control and they aren’t going to stop the flow of guns into Chicago. Guns are a legal product and that isn’t going to change. If you figure out where the guns are coming from today and stop it, another source will pop up tomorrow because someone can make money and again, guns are a legal product and sold throughout this nation. The reality is there is no “Firearms Trafficking” statute/law. ATF expends a huge amount of their limited resources trying to enforce a law that doesn’t exist. The call for Gun Control is just something that allows politicians to say they are trying to do something.
A solution we call all agree on, from the far left to the far right, is to refocus the limited resources of law enforcement to do what everyone already thought they were doing. What does that mean? You first have to understand a dirty little secret about crime in this country. For years, politicians have been pushing law enforcement to reclassify crime to keep stats down and in doing so, keep property values and the tax base up. This is done primarily through the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reporting or UCR. How is this done? Well, a Drive by Shooting of an Occupied Residence might be classified as an Illegal Discharge of a Firearm instead of Attempted Murder. Or an exchange of gunfire between rivals in which no one is hit might be classified as a Reckless Endangerment instead of an Attempted Murder. Or shots fired into an occupied vehicle might be called Property Damage instead of Attempted Murder. I hope you see the pattern here and this simple change in reporting keeps crime stats down and protects the tax base. Keep in mind that what is documented on the Police Report has little to do with what the suspect might be charged with. What happens next is even more surprising, even to some Police Chiefs. If a Drive by Shooting of an Occupied Residence (Illegal Discharge of a Firearm) occurs and no one is hit, no detective will be assigned. If police show up to a Shots Fired call (Reckless Endangerment) and no one is hit, no detective or investigation occurs. If someone is shot and wounded (Attempted Murder), a detective is assigned, but he is so overworked the case will quickly be closed if he can’t solve it in a few days. The only real attention is given to Homicide Investigations. This is where police put a lot of resources and their solve rate is a source of pride for a department.
The problem with this strategy is we only take shooters seriously when they finally kill someone. So a shooter could commit dozens of shootings, even hitting victims on numerous occasions, and police won’t focus on him until he commits a murder. Can you imagine ignoring a serial arsonist until someone finally dies in one of his fires? The goal should be to address illegal behavior before it escalates to a murder. We need to correct these young men early on rather than wait until a murder occurs and lock them up for life. Even more critical is the effect of not addressing shooters. Every time they commit a shooting and no one addresses their crimes, it only emboldens them and makes it more likely for them to continue and escalate their violence. It also allows others in the community to come to the false belief that there is no consequence to shootings a gun. I know it sound simplistic, but these are basic playground rules we learned in kindergarten. If you don’t address the bully on the playground, he will only escalate his bad behavior and soon others will also become bullies. But if you believe in the current strategy, Gun Control, the solution to playground bullies is to not address the bullies, but just ban the playground equipment. You don’t tear down the swing set because Billy is pushing Susie off the swing. This is what we are doing with Gun Control.
I developed a strategy while at ATF that targets shooters with the goal of addressing their behavior before they commit a murder. Again, the reality of this strategy is most citizens assume law enforcement is already doing this. This is all done by implementing the Crime Gun Intelligence Strategy. By focusing Law Enforcement’s limited resources on shootings, we identify, target and prosecute shooters before they commit a murder. NIBIN (National Integrated Ballistic Information Network) is the technology centerpiece of the strategy. Law enforcement officers would respond to every scene and attempt to collect shell casings. If the city has “ShotSpotter” (an acoustic gunfire detection system) the strategy would work even faster and more accurately by assisting in the collection of shell casings from crime scenes and locating shootings that weren’t reported to police. Keep in mind, the national average is only one in five shootings is actually called into 911. In some areas, only one in forty-five shootings are called into 911. Once the spent shell casings are collected, they are digitally imaged and compared to other shootings previously entered into the NIBIN database. Investigators can quickly identify if the same firearm has been used in numerous shootings to determine if there is an active “serial shooter” on the streets. By going back and interviewing witnesses from the previous incidents, detectives can identify the shooter. Keep in mind; witnesses are more likely to identify a suspect on lesser crimes than on major crimes. Connecting the lesser crimes to the major crimes is critical. It should also be noted that witnesses are also more likely to talk a few days after the incident rather than immediately following a shooting since most people flee when shots are fired and no one wants to be identified as a snitch. This is extremely helpful in solving minor and major crimes.
The primary goal should be stopping the violence – not making high profile cases for prosecutors or locking someone up for life. Once the shooter is identified, all effort is done to stop his crime spree. Often, this can be done by a probation revocation or an arrest for traffic violations. Again, our priority should be to stop the shootings. Once we remove the shooter off the streets, witnesses are more inclined to come forward and testify. This strategy has already been effectively implemented in Denver. By using this strategy with only a few agents, detectives and a progressive crime lab, Denver has seen a 70% reduction in gun violence in areas where these active serial shooters are identified, targeted and prosecuted. While solving homicides, the Denver Crime Gun Intelligence Center is also able to address these shooters – BEFORE a murder is committed. The problem we face across the nation has nothing to do with Gun Control. We must target the shooters.
Why is this so difficult? Even though NIBIN/Crime Gun Intelligence is DOJ and ATF’s main strategy of combating gun violence, the reality is ATF still spends most of its time and money buying narcotics with the hope of eventually getting a gun.
For the past thirty years, Law Enforcement has claimed that drugs are causing all the problems of this country. Police departments assign more people to drug squads than to investigate shootings under the old belief that drugs cause gun violence. But by using the Crime Gun Intelligence strategy, we find the majority of shootings are over women, respect or old feuds, not drugs. To be clear, I am not advocating legalization of drugs, but drugs aren’t the primary cause of the gun violence plaguing our nation. Targeting young men making street level drug sales has little effect on gun violence and only causes more anger in the inner cities towards law enforcement. It also brings up the all too common allegations of racial profiling. But to admit this strategy has failed would require changing the way we do business in law enforcement. One of the biggest battles I had at ATF was getting upper management to admit the first ten years of NIBIN was a failure and didn’t produce any measurable results. But by owning this failure, we were able to stop continuing the mistakes of the past and make positive changes. This is huge hurdle in government, but until we admit our current strategy has failed, the gun violence will continue.
This is important to help us get past the debate over gun control. Not only can we do something to actually reduce gun violence, we can also avoid driving someone to the edge because he thinks the government is coming for his guns. This fight has gone on too long and we need to find some common ground to make our country safer, provide some peace to our citizens and alleviate the fear of legal gun owners. We can do this!
John Risenhoover –
Director – CCW Safe
ATF Senior Special Agent Retired / NIBIN National Coordinator