November Blog Post

By John Christoffersen - TGS Volunteer

Texas is not immune to gun violence. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report over 3,200 gun related deaths each year. Every gun death has a lesson and a story to tell.  Unfortunately, those lessons are often ones we already know — training and safe storage prevent gun violence.

On Monday October 9, 2017 a 19 year old man and Texas Tech University student, shot university 48 year old police officer, Floyd East, Jr,. in the head with a gun that the shooter had hidden in his pants. It is always a tragedy when a law enforcement officer dies in the line of duty, and our condolences go out to the officer’s family, colleagues and the Texas Tech community. Tragedies like this call for us to examine measures that can be taken to prevent such events in the future. 

Current information on the incident indicates that the suspect had been patted down by officers, and that the shooting took place later during processing inside of a police station. As more information becomes available, perhaps, we might get more answers for how this shooting could have happened, and how it might have been prevented. In the meantime, we can address what we do know.   

We know that a public health approach to gun violence works. The public health approach is population-based and focuses on prevention not on blame.  Implementing thorough ongoing firearms safety training and education instead of blame uses a systems approaches that can prevent tragedies like the Texas Tech shooting. The following story applies such a systems approach to understand what happened and what could be improved in the Texas Tech police shooting.

The interaction that led to the suspect's arrest was a welfare check request. Police received a report of a student acting erratically and in possession of a weapon, as well as the sound of a gunshot coming from the suspect's dorm room. As it happens, the shooter was already an active suspect in a reported robbery of the firearm used in the commission of a crime the day prior to his arrest. What is unclear is if the shooter was properly restrained while being processed at the university police station. In light of all of the evidence this individual was potentially dangerous. However, officers failed to find the weapon when they searched the shooter.

After speaking with law enforcement friends of mine I learned some of how law enforcement trains its officers. What I learned is that repetitive training safety procedures are paramount to addressing each dangerous situation officers face. Officers should spend so much time on weapons training and drills that they can react appropriately when adrenaline and tunnel vision kick in. Tunnel vision occurs when an untrained human is unable to think as clearly as would be necessary in a potentially dangerous situation. Had there been a focus on ongoing training and regular practice for the more mundane policies and procedures on interactions with the public, officer safety could dramatically improve.  Police officers deserve thorough training and retraining to protect themselves and the public. 

A second observation of this horrific tragedy is regarding the weapon itself. The gun used in commission of this murder was the property of an acquaintance of the shooter. According to the police report, the acquaintance kept the gun in plain view, unsecured and unlocked on a shelf in a nightstand beside his bed. Perhaps this is the initial point of failure in this case that might have been most easily addressed with a gun safety mindset?

Responsible gun owners store their weapons and ammunition safely to keep them out of the hands of those who are not qualified and/or dangerous. Training and re-training gun owners on safe storage is very important. Perhaps if the gun used in the Texas Tech murder had had a lock, and/or had been securely stored (unloaded) in a gun safe, it would have been less likely this incident would have happened.  Education, incentives, requirements, and consequences bolster responsibility. 

Gun owners, law enforcement, politicians, and gun violence prevention activists should come together and agree upon a wide range of common sense measures to ensure that not only is the right to own guns protected, but to hold each other accountable to protect the lives of innocent people and the lives of those who serve to protect us from harm. There are so many good ideas out there to address the challenges of gun violence that have become all too frequent in this country. Let's pick a few of these ideas that we can agree on and begin the process to improve gun safety. The world is exactly what we allow it to be. The question is, do we have the courage and fortitude to put aside our partisanship to do what is necessary to save lives?

 

Jon Christoffersen came to Texas from rural Wisconsin seven years ago. His extended family are all avid hunters, and he grew up with a healthy respect for the role of guns in the lives of everyday Americans. He has become increasingly invested in preventing gun violence, and working to be part

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