This country continues to suffer an epidemic of mass shootings encompassing schools, theaters, concert venues, houses of worship and workplaces. According to Mass Shooting Tracker (https://massshootingtracker.org), since Jan. 20, 2017, there have been 960 such incidents, resulting in 1,249 deaths and many more injuries. In 2019 alone, we have already suffered 35 school shootings.
Despite this surge in gun violence, very little is being done to combat the morphing of America into the Wild West. Gun control legislation, no matter how modest and limited in scope, either does not come up for a vote or is summarily rejected. Congressional and state legislative Republicans continue to reside comfortably in the deep pockets of the National Rifle Association and its lunatic assertions of Second Amendment threats that are utter hogwash. Even Democrats, fearing adverse electoral consequences, are timid when it comes to riling NRA rank-and-file members despite an ocean of lip service expressing their concern about the issue.
There is, however, a smidgen of light struggling to seep into this dark chapter in our history. The NRA, while not on the ropes by any stretch, is not quite the juggernaut it has consistently been for much too long. It recently suffered the public embarrassment of a well-covered power struggle between two of the vilest gun proponents on the planet, now ex-NRA president Oliver North and CEO Wayne LaPierre. There are also inklings that the organization is not nearly as flush with money as it has been.
Nonetheless, the gun lobby and its bought-and-paid-for congressional and state legislative allies are still powerful enough to halt even the most humble of reasonable gun regulations.
Accordingly, we should be looking elsewhere for solutions to the mass shooting outbreak that is devastating our land. An obvious candidate is the online world and the millions of Americans who spend hours each day surfing the Internet.
Many mass shooters post their intentions and “manifestos” online before they embark on their rampages. If law enforcement were able to view and act on these prior to an incident, lives could be saved. But the constant monitoring and level of vigilance involved in scanning the Web for indicators of potential violence is very costly. Law enforcement simply does not have the resources to devote to such a Herculean effort.
Instead, why not train groups of civilian volunteers to devote time to checking social media and the rest of the online universe for signs of dangerous individuals and reporting their findings to local authorities? This kind of effort would be akin to the National Sheriffs’ Association’s almost 50-year old “Neighborhood Watch” program under which communities act as the eyes and ears of law enforcement. An even older example of such community participation was the early Cold War era’s “Ground Observer Corps” where hundreds of thousands of volunteers trained their binoculars on the skies in order to spot and report any Soviet air incursions.
Transplanted to the digital world, this kind of monitoring would be something that a volunteer could undertake from home. It could greatly contribute to thwarting potential deadly attacks.
Alerts passed on to law enforcement for investigation have the potential to cut this kind of murderous behavior by a substantial amount. “Digital Watch” (or whatever name is selected) would be a law enforcement multiplier of tremendous value.
I suspect that the NRA would even object to something as non-threatening to their sacred gun rights as this, arguing that any law enforcement effort to investigate a gun owner, no matter how well-intentioned or probable-cause based, would mark an infringement on the hallowed Second Amendment. In the NRA realm, this late addition to the Constitution supposedly supersedes anything in the Constitution’s Preamble (“insure domestic Tranquility,… promote the general Welfare,….”) or the Declaration of Independence’s “Unalienable Right…to Life.”
Canandaigua Academy graduate Richard Hermann is a law professor, legal blogger, author of seven books and part-time resident of the Finger Lakes.