Five decades of dealing with political terrorism and hostage and barricade situations have produced a wealth of knowledge about how to prevent terrorist attacks. Some of that knowledge is applicable to dealing with school shootings. Surprisingly, it has not become a meaningful part of the public debate.
Terrorists, like mass shooters, choose soft targets that will generate a lot of casualties, a lot of publicity, and a lot of discussion. Want to deter them? Harden the target, tone down the Klieg lights, and put the shooter’s name on mute.
A target can be hardened in many ways, both physically and psychologically. They are not mutually exclusive, but different components of the same process.
Rather than arm teachers, it is easier to instruct them in how to profile potential perpetrators. The Israelis have become masters at profiling potential skyjackers. That information is known to our authorities and can be applied to instructional materials to equip teachers to identify potential school shooters.
Those teachers with military or law enforcement backgrounds can be trained to carry concealed weapons.
Satellite police stations can be set up in some schools so there is a constant and changing police presence in the schools. In addition, local police can run safety and drug prevention programs in the schools — which many departments already do — and use officers who can relate to and build rapport with students.
The idea here is one used by the British government at mass events. “Adopt a Bobby,” the British called it. Get to know the police officer near you. Become the eyes and ears of that officer. Extend the officer’s reach and ability to acquire information. See something, say something to your personal officer.
Monitor social media. Young people want to brag about past misbehaviors and predict future ones. Where’s the fun unless you can call attention to yourself?
The best armed security is the security you don’t see or even know about. The British have long used such methods in a variety of circumstances. Synagogues, with which I am familiar, have various levels of security, only some of which are visible, but all of which can be instantly mobilized.
Create physical barriers in the schools as part of hardening the target. From metal detectors to the way visitors enter the school, to doors that can’t be entered, schools can be made more difficult to attack.
Hostage negotiators have developed methods to build rapport with hostage takers. These psychological methods can be used to build rapport with and investigate potential violent actors.
Create a climate of inclusion. Exclusion, status hierarchies and bullying motivate outliers to seek vengeance. Anti-bullying policies must be more than a shibboleth.
Just as not all terrorist attacks can be prevented, neither can all mass shootings. And if schools are hardened, the attackers will simply search for another soft target.
At the same time, we can make schools safer. Hardening the target, using psychological profiling, and obtaining better intelligence are good starting points. In the collective memory of police agencies throughout the Western world, there is a lot of vital information that can be applied to mass shootings. It needs to be tapped.
There are more guns than people in America. Even if every semi-automatic weapon could be seized — which it can’t — a trained shooter with a bolt-action rifle can get close to the speed of a semi-automatic. Revolvers have interchangeable cylinders which with practice can be placed into a handgun as fast as a magazine.
Determined shooters will acquire weapons and master them.
The idea is to stop mass shooters by applying what we have long learned from fighting terrorists. First through psychological methods and then by hardening our schools so they are not soft targets.
Abraham H. Miller is an emeritus professor of political science, University of Cincinnati, and a distinguished fellow with the news and public policy group Haym Salomon Center. Follow him @salomoncenter