Searching for answers and understanding in the face of gun violence

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Here we are once again finding ourselves doing a special edition of this program in the wake of yet another mass shooting, two of them this time around within hours of each other, El Paso and Dayton. But it’s as our experts have told us on previous editions of The Means Report this is the new normal, this will happen again. And so when it does we want to do our part as soon as possible after it happens to put some perspective on it. And to see if we can make any progress to put a dent in this problem of mass shootings.

The FBI defines that by the way as any time four or more people in the same area are shot. They far exceeded in El Paso and Dayton that minimal number of four, as you well know. More than 300 people are shot every day in this country, 21 of those victims are teenagers so gun violence is nothing new to America, we just have to figure out what to do from here. Again, as I say, a topic we’ve tackled before, but we’re going to go in depth on it again today with three great experts who have been kind enough to lend their time to us.

Brad Means: We have Dr. Michael Vitacco, he’s a forensic psychologist from Augusta University, kind enough to be back on The Means Report.

Dr. Michael Vitacco: Thank you.

Brad Means: Lieutenant Randall, thank you sire. Lieutenant Randall Norman coming to us from the Burke County Sheriff’s office. Sir, thank you for protecting us and for being here today.

Lt. Randall Norman: Thank you.

Brad Means: And Dr. Craig Albert, who is at Augusta University as director of Intelligence and Security studies, thank you for being back.

Dr. Craig Albert: Of course.

Brad Means: And so I guess I’ll start with you first of all Lieutenant Norman since you’re the first responder when stuff like this happens.

Lt. Randall Norman: Yes sir.

Brad Means: What I hear on the news is while the public runs away from a mass shooter law enforcement runs toward that person. What are you trained to do? What are you thinking when you’re running toward that person? The reason I ask is because sometimes I think well you’re running toward him, when he sees the badge he’ll get scared, he’ll stop shooting. I’m sure you’re not just recklessly racing toward him, are you?

Lt. Randall Norman: Well in this particular situations we are trained to immediately go to the threat. There’s very little time for us to draft a plan or to wait for backup or anything like that so if I’m the first responding officer or maybe one of two that are first responding, wherever we hear shots being fired at that particular time, that’s where we’re going. We’re trained to stop the threat and to minimize any loss of life in that particular moment.

Brad Means: When you’re running toward him, are you specifically looking for ways to protect yourself? In other words, once you spot him you also have to make sure you can protect yourself as you minimize the threat, right?

Lt. Randall Norman: Yes. A lot of times you don’t think about it because my job at that point is to stop the threat at that point. You want to minimize as much loss of life or anything in regards to the citizens that are caught in that situation. So generally what happens is we’ll get to that location and at that point maybe they’ll either barricade themselves or they’ll cease shooting at that point in time. And then at that point you can kind of think about let me position myself here or let me position myself there in regards to protecting myself, but while you’re running to it you’re not 100% thinking that.

Brad Means: Dr. Vitacco, you’ve been across the table from bad guys, as we’ve talked about before, I tell you sometimes you learn more about these mass shooters and at some point in their lives they were normal, if you will. What happens to them to make them do that?

Dr. Michael Vitacco: Well I think that’s an answer that nobody really knows. And I think if we had information on that we’d be a lot better off. I think in these cases, what has become more abundantly clear is that in many of these cases these shooters have provided clues to the fact that they were very disturbed. In fact in both these incidents, in El Paso and Dayton, there were writings, there were warning signs before that these folks were having some significant problems. And I think those are the things we need to look out for. Those are the things we need to consider.

Brad Means: Dr. Albert, you’re our political guy here on the panel, do these incidents get politicized too soon? It wasn’t even hours after the shootings when all the presidential candidates were coming out with a comment, is that okay?

Dr. Craig Albert: I think it’s okay to bring awareness to these types of situations. But the weaponization of the rhetoric is terrible. And it doesn’t do any just, it doesn’t justify what happened, it doesn’t help what happened, it just causes more alarm or more panic. This is not a partisan issue. Gun violence is obviously deadly and so it doesn’t matter if you’re a Democrat or Republican, something needs to be done to account for this. So I would not advise politicians to try to take advantage of these situations. That doesn’t really help the victims either because they’re just used as props in that situation.

Brad Means: It seems like we have two points of view that always surface after mass shootings. You have the group that says it’s a mental health issue, you have the group that says it’s a gun issue. As a law enforcer, Lieutenant, is it a gun issue to you? Do you wish there were fewer guns on the streets? Do you see too much of the violence?

Lt. Randall Norman: I do see a lot of violence on the rise amongst the communities and things like that. But the reasoning behind it, it just varies. I can’t sit here and tell you I think it’s one over another because it’s just a combination of things that we see on a regular basis.

Brad Means: You see people of all types commit gun violence.

Lt. Randall Norman: Yes we do.

Brad Means: And my question to you doctor is do you see it as more of a mental health issue rather than a gun control issue? Do we need to get the person right?

Dr. Michael Vitacco: Well, and I think that’s the great question. And I think too often as we politicize these things we get into two camps. Unfortunately, when we set up our camps we miss a whole lot of middle ground. And I think that’s exactly where we need to go from a mental health perspective. We do need to do better from a mental health perspective. There’s a slew of laws being developed right now called red flag laws. And that’s where really mental health professionals may be able to do the most good. Where some of these incidents are being, these people are being identified. And mental health professionals then can start making some recommendations whether this specific person should have access to a firearm, whether this specific person is at risk for violence. And I think, as we’re seeing some of these hints, these strong hints of this person’s at risk, this might be a step in the direction where mental health professionals may actually have the right to be at the table to start making some recommendations.

Brad Means: What’s the first step if you do notice that somebody’s a little bit off kilter, that they might commit a mass shooting or they might shoot one person, what do you do? How do you turn ’em in?

Dr. Michael Vitacco: Well I think you need to call law enforcement. I think you need to make those tough decisions. I also think maybe, especially if it’s somebody close to you, you need to have a real conversation with them. But I think these are the steps that we need to start taking as a country, as a society, where we don’t politicize things, but we start taking the issue at its head.

Brad Means: Dr. Albert, is this an issue that could make or break an election, gun control, or am I putting too much weight in that one issue?

Dr. Craig Albert: I think it’s definitely important, and you can see amongst Republicans especially that the conversation they’re having within the GOP has shifted quite a bit in the past week from there’s no discussion on gun control whatsoever to hey maybe there’s something we can do where we can respect the constitution and the right to bear arms, but also have some common sense. Maybe people don’t need 100 round capacity magazines in their weapons. So there is more talk, and President Trump, or Republican, has signaled that he’s much more willing to discuss what we call in political science common sense gun control than most Republicans have been.

Brad Means: Lieutenant, I don’t wanna make you be our gun control guy, I don’t, because I shouldn’t put you in that position, but Dr. Albert mentioned high-capacity magazines.

Lt. Randall Norman: That is correct.

Brad Means: There are assault riffles out there. In your line of work, and you can rephrase my question if you want, I might not be asking it correctly, is there a need ever for those things, assault rifles, high-capacity magazines? Y’all should have high-capacity magazines, should regular citizens?

Lt. Randall Norman: Um, again, that’s one of those, it’s just one of those tough things.

Brad Means: They have the right to.

Lt. Randall Norman: They have that right, and so with having that right comes things where it may not necessarily be necessary for a person to have it, but sometimes you have that right and people choose to do what they want with it, well within those rights. In the cases that we see individuals out with large capacity magazines and things of that sort, we hope to generally see them out in a recreational use, someone who’s target practicing, someone who’s out utilizing shooting as a hobby, utilizing those high-capacity magazines the right way, not using it in a negative form as a mass shooting, active shooter situation or committing any type of crime.

Brad Means: Does the criminal use a weapon that was obtained legitimately, or most of the time have they gotten their weapons illegally, or can you answer that?

Lt. Randall Norman: Within my years of experience, I’ve seen that most people that are committing these crimes are obtaining these weapons illegally. They may have, these weapons may have been stolen in a burglary from a residence, where sometimes we accidentally leave a car unlocked or something like that. And we leave those weapons unsecured inside a residence and a simple find of a weapon in that aspect has now trickled down to someone else getting their hands on that firearm, and now they’re using it for illicit purposes.

Brad Means: Dr. Albert, no legislation in the land can stop that, can it? If you want a gun you’re gonna be able to get one, right?

Dr. Craig Albert: Right. This is one of the situations with the Gilroy shooting in California, where the type of weapon that was used there is not allowed in California, it’s highly regulated, but it is allowed in Nevada. So you can’t stop the transport of arms even if purchased legally in one state, from somebody bringing them into another state. Of course it is illegal to bring a gun that you purchased in one state, especially those types of weapons. You’re not supposed to do that, but often people don’t even know that when they cross from, lets say Georgia to South Carolina, the gun laws might be different, and so if you do that you can’t stop anybody from taking those from you in that situation when they leave them around.

Brad Means: All right, so the guns are out there, the mass shootings are happening, we’re doing these editions of The Means Report over and over again, so how do we process it? How do we talk to our children about what they might see about on the news or hear about from their friends? Dr. Vitacco will lead off that part of the discussion when the special Means Report continues.

Part 2

Brad Means: Welcome back to The Means Report, taking a close look at gun violence in the wake of yet two more mass shootings, Dayton and El Paso. And you know our kids, Dr. Vitacco, forensic psychologist, hear about these shootings.

Dr. Michael Vitacco: Absolutely.

Brad Means: And they say what’s going on mom or dad. How detailed can we get?

Dr. Michael Vitacco: Well I think there’s two issues that we need to be talking to our children about and making them aware of. The first is just a preventative issue. We need to let them know, hey if you hear of anything at your school, if you hear anything among your friends, if your friends are talking about these things you have to let someone in authority know and you have to do it right away. I think you kicked off the show saying this is kind of the new normal, the new reality, that’s exactly right. So I think that is really important to communicate to our children, just the importance of as they hear things, and if they do hear things to let someone know so a problem can be prevented. The other thing I think is real important is you process kids with where they’re at. I have two children and they’re very different, but as they come to me and talk to me, hey I heard this, I think it’s important to kind of say yeah that happened, these are really bad things. What are your fears? What do you need to talk about? And kind of let them sort of lead the conversation, but you as a parent need to be there and kind of be that shoulder that they can have to process these issues.

Brad Means: Lieutenant, is it fair to say that responsible gun use and responsible gun ownership starts with the parents and the people in the home, how they model it? If dad is good with his gun, when the son or daughter grows up they will be too?

Lt. Randall Norman: I do agree with that. And that is a major help, and is a first step in all of this. And I also agree with the doctor when he says that it’s, in a nutshell it’s time to have real conversations. Speaking with your children and things like that, it helps in the event something like this does happen. It helps bring the awareness, it helps keep them alert. It doesn’t make them afraid, but it makes them alert and aware of their surroundings. And so even within our school system we like to try to teach the children different drills in different situations. If this happens, this is what you’re supposed to do. And when it comes to our smaller children, it’s more of a discussion that we would like for the parents to have with the children. And so in that concept the children are at home with their parents and they’re explaining different things, maybe things they’ve heard at school, maybe things they’ve seen on TV and in that aspect. But we do, as a school board, as a sheriff’s office, we try to make sure our students know and understand this is real and it could potentially happen.

Brad Means: What does the young criminal suspect say to you, if you ever ask that person, why’d you use a gun? Why did you try to resolve this dispute with a gun, what’s their answer? Why don’t they just go the old fashioned having a fight route, or a verbal argument route?

Lt. Randall Norman: To be completely honest with you, several of these youth that we come in contact with are misguided. And it’s unfortunate all around. And a lot of times you try to have a normal conversation with them, and they don’t grasp the concept of you’re trying to help them. They don’t understand the concept of let me just put this gun down, and as you say just fight it out like we used to do when we were younger, they don’t see that. They see different things on TV, and they hear different things in music. They may be hanging around a certain group of people, and a lot of times it’s trying to fit in. And in order to fit in a lot of times they’re taking a part in doing different activities versus what kids do.

Brad Means: Right, that’s so true. Dr. Albert, is this an American problem primarily, or do we see this around the world this gun violence?

Dr. Craig Albert: Gun violence is an American problem because we’re one of the freest societies when it comes to gun ownership. There are violent societies with stabbings. Great Britain of course is very violent when it comes to knife violence. The difference is, even though they might have more instances of this, the casualty rate is much lower because they’re using a knife. When you have a weapon, a gun that can shoot off 30 rounds in five seconds, I mean look at what happened in 30 seconds in Dayton, nine people were killed. 30 seconds first responders were on the scene, took care of the situation, but still you had that many. I’m not advocating that that should not, those type of weapons shouldn’t be allowed, but we have to be aware of it. And in fact to just add on to the what can we do about this situation and everything, the FBI is now treating social media as a place to look for these types of crimes and what can happen, and local law enforcement is as well. And it’s just like, as we discussed before with counter terrorism ideas, it’s see something, say something. If somebody jokes about this, but you’re not sure it’s a joke, you can report that individual. And it’s not gonna be oh someone’s gonna make fun of you or something for that, like see something, say something. And if it’s not a situation then nothing will happen to that person. But that’s how, we need to take these things seriously because we have so many of these weapons. There are more weapons, there are more guns in the United States than there are citizens.

Brad Means: What about big lobbying groups like the NRA? How influential are they when it comes to making a politician think a certain way?

Dr. Craig Albert: Well there is a connection between the NRA and some conservatives because of how attached to the Second Amendment conservatives are. So I think that that attachment is being deluded recently, and especially within the last week, so there’s been a giant shift in Republican tone and messaging away from the National Rifle Association. So we have to be careful though, and as a political scientist I have to say this, we have to be careful about in a terrible situation limiting citizen rights. So you have to check your emotion. Thomas Jefferson said never enact a law until one year has passed from the situation that makes you wanna enact that law. So you have to balance threat versus liberty in all instances, including in extreme tragedies like this one.

Brad Means: Dr. Vitacco, what about ways that we can, going back to what Craig said, see something, say something. A friend of mine, before we started taping this show, said he heard a couple of cases where a potential mass shooter was spotted, pulled aside and got some help, and didn’t become a mass shooter. Can you rehabilitate these folks and change them if you can pull them out fast enough?

Dr. Michael Vitacco: The general answer to that is absolutely, especially at young age. And that’s the key is that a lot of this stuff is done very impulsively in some instances. Now the issue in some of these cases there’s been problems brewing for a long time, where they’ve been planning and planing and planning. But the mere fact if someone says something they can intervene. I’m more worried as a citizen, aside of a forensic psychologist of stopping the issue, that as a psychologist we can deal with them, once we stop it we can treat them and get them some mental health help, get them the assistance that they need. And if they’re rehabilitated completely that’s okay. But the key thing is to stop the event before it happens.

Brad Means: You wanna stop it before it happens and to at least reduce the number of mass shootings and gun violence that we’re seeing each day. I’ll ask all of you, are we ever gonna put a dent in this thing where we, it seems like we’re seeing more is my point. Can we ever reverse that?

Dr. Craig Albert: It seems like on social media at least that we can trace. Often, most of these individuals are posting things that give you clues that this is what they’re planning. So just like we do with ISIS or potential cyber affiliated members of ISIS in the United States, we can start tracking their social media usage and see if they’re posting dangerous hints that this is something that they’re gonna do, a picture of a particular type of semi-automatic weapon and saying I’m coming or something like that. Often people see something like that on Facebook and do nothing about it. Oh you’re just playing. But no, the government is asking us if we start seeing these types of things, just like we say see something do something about terrorism, the same absolute policy should apply to mass shooting.

Brad Means: And just very quickly I wanna get more specific, if you turn on your computer, Facebook, Instagram, whatever, and you see somebody who says I worship the devil, that’s different from saying and I have a gun and want to do something with it. You really need to look at those warning signs, not just the genearch dark personality, right?

Dr. Criag Albert: That’s what you’re looking for, the intent to do harm, or the propensity to do harm is what you want to look for with these types of ratified individuals. This is no different type of mindset when we talk about radicalization as ISIS has, these people that commit extreme violence.

Brad Means: Lieutenant Randall Norman, final question to you. Do you ever get home at the end of the week and look back at all your shifts and say oh good there was less gun violence this week? And if not, can we get to that point maybe one day?

Lt. Randall Norman: Every day that you don’t have a situation that arises like that is a good day. You know every, and like you say yes, so at the end of the week, if I can look back and say that we were able to save lives and we prevented some form of negativity of the sort you know it was a great week. Just to add on what the doctor, what he was saying, even our investigators take the time to look at and follow up on different tips, whether it’s social media or anything of that sort. And when we find things that may hint to potential gun violence, not necessarily a mass shooting, but any type of gun violence or any type of criminal activity, a lot of times now, especially when it’s dealing with our youth, we’ll bring the parents in. We’ll bring the parents in, we’ll bring the youth in, and we’ll tell them hey, look, this is what we see, this is not normal for someone of your age. This is normal for criminal activity and it has to stop. So our sheriff is making sure that we’re heading on these problems and making sure things like this don’t happen in our area.

Brad Means: Well that’s powerful and it’s appreciated for sure. Please tell the sheriff we said that. And thank you for getting face to face with those families.

Lt. Randall Norman: Yes, sir.

Brad Means: Help is out there, law enforcement, mental health, the politicians are working to try to address this issue. Where do we go from here? Hopefully, as we agreed on this panel, fewer mass shootings in the future, zero mass shootings in the future, wouldn’t that be great? Panelists, thank you for your time today. I appreciate what you do in our community, and what you did today on The Means Report.

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Brad Means

The Means Report first aired in January of 2009 offering coverage that you cannot get from a daily newscast. Forget about quick soundbytes -- we deliver an in-depth perspective on the biggest stories. If they are making news on the local or national level, you will find them on the set of The Means Report. Hosted by WJBF NewsChannel 6 anchor, Brad Means, The Means Report covers the topics impacting your life, your town, your state, and your future.