My heart goes out to Andy Parker, the father of the TV reporter who was slain in Roanoke. He was recently cited in the New York Times making a series of emotional appeals for laws that would prevent mentally ill people from buying guns; “I’m going to do something, whatever it takes, to get gun legislation, to shame people, to shame legislators into doing something about closing loopholes and background checks,” Mr. Parker said on Fox News. “This is not the last you’ve heard of me. This is something that is Alison’s legacy that I want to make happen.”
A Prevention Methodology Is Critical
An established prevention methodology can be leveraged with current laws already on the books by a threat assessment professional fortuitously involved in potentially preventing acts of targeted violence such as the tragedy in Roanoke and the recent shooting in Oregon.
Threat assessment is the process of gathering and assessing information about persons who may have the interest, motive, intention and capability of mounting attacks against individuals. We know an individual planning to carry out an attack must select a target, locate the target, secure a weapon and travel to the target’s location.
Fallout from the Oregon Shooting
The alleged gunman who killed nine people and wounded nine others at a rural community college in Oregon last month had been discharged from the Army after attempting to commit suicide, according to law enforcement officials familiar with the case.
The Army discharge didn’t affect Christopher Harper-Mercer’s ability to legally purchase the weapons. He didn’t receive a dishonorable discharge – often deemed equivalent to a felony – and as a result, wasn’t precluded from buying guns under federal law.
An official with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives said that a total of six guns — five pistols and a rifle — were recovered from where the shooting took place, along with a steel-enhanced flak jacket and five magazines of ammunition. Eight more guns were found at the nearby apartment that Harper-Mercer shared with his mother.
Gun Laws and Threat Assessment: What’s the Connection?
Congress passed the Gun Control Act in 1968 which made it a crime for any person to possess firearms who had been “adjudicated as a mental defective or has been committed to any mental institution.”
What does this mean for a threat assessment professional? If an individual is deemed a threat, a plan to manage the individual and mitigate any potential risks is developed and implemented. Such a plan may involve working closely with family members and law enforcement in efforts to obtain a court-ordered mental health commitment to ensure the individual is denied ownership or access to weapons.
Helping Those in Need or at Risk
For 30 years, I have worked closely with mental health professionals, families and law enforcement in preventing acts of targeted violence. In almost every case involving a mentally ill person whose inappropriate behavior may indicate a pathway to violence, an attack was a means to achieve an end, such as calling attention to a perceived problem.
On a monthly basis, I interact with family members when a person may be a threat to one of our clients. Without exception, family members welcome our advice and insight as we provide information to law enforcement that may in some cases result in a court-ordered mental health commitment. We partner with family members to monitor a person who is under a court-ordered mental health commitment. Without a doubt, we have been successful in preventing persons who were likely planning an attack from obtaining or possessing weapons.
There will be endless debates in the months to come, especially with the upcoming 2016 presidential campaign and election. Our firm will continue to work diligently with our tools and expertise to thwart these tragic events whenever and wherever we can.