In the United States, there are more firearms than people. Conversations around how to make schools and public places safer often call for stricter gun laws, but it would be impossible to make nearly 400 million weapons disappear — either overnight or even within 30 years. So if we are serious about preventing gun-related violence, we need to focus on deterrence and protection. After all, the root cause of any mass shooting is a person’s desire and willingness to harm others.


Learning from History 

In 2018, Aaron Stark gave a powerful TED Talk in which he took the audience through the story of his vulnerable upbringing, and how pain and darkness during this time almost led him to commit a mass shooting. In the end, it was simply a friend treating him like a human and showing him kindness that prevented him from committing a heinous act. 

Aaron’s story personifies the deep-rooted challenges many perpetrators of mass shootings face. In 2018, journalist Alex Hannaford spoke with twelve currently incarcerated mass shooters about their motives, and many cited mental health issues and other life turmoil as a factor. 


Addressing the Factors

At the heart of all security planning should be the goal of stopping would-be shooters before the first shot is fired. More often than not, the perpetrator of a mass shooting will exhibit signs of deep turmoil and distress in the days, weeks or months leading up to an incident. It’s important not only for security personnel, but the general public to understand the warning signs that someone may be in need of help. 

As was the case with Aaron’s story, the act of intervening and connecting someone in need to the right services can be the first line of defense in preventing mass shootings. 


The Problem with “Gun Free” Zones

Gun free zones have emerged as a potential solution by establishing certain public areas, like schools and courthouses, where carrying a firearm is a crime. Similarly, the Federal Gun-Free School Zones Act of 1990 bans firearms within 1,000 feet of a school with exceptions for authorized personnel, like security guards.

While the assumption is that these areas are safer places, someone looking to cause harm will usually seek a vulnerable location to do so. As such, between 1950-2018, almost 98% of public mass shootings occurred in gun free zones.


Protecting the Public

Any area, gun-free or not, should be protected with multiple layers of security that not only detect  threats, but initiate proper emergency protocols to save lives. 

Physical security measures like automated door locks and communication systems should be deployed to protect those inside and enable critical information to be privately relayed if necessary. Proactive technology like security cameras with weapons detection capabilities can help detect threats and provide real-time information during an incident, ensuring a swift and effective response from law enforcement. Finally, schools and businesses must ensure that students and employees are trained on emergency protocols, so they know how to respond should a worst-case scenario ever occur.

The fear of mass shootings in the United States is very real — one third of adults say it prevents them from visiting certain places and attending events. But when discussing how to address the problem, we must be realistic: love them or hate them, guns are not going away any time soon.  As such, we must take a holistic approach to ensuring public safety — one that includes personal intervention and help for troubled individuals, as well as technologies to protect the public.