Criminal Justice News

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

What We Must Do to Stop Mass Murder in America

I have been asked over and over again about my thoughts on mass shootings.  Well, if you have the stomach for it, read on.  I am going to trounce the 2nd and 4th Amendments as well as patients’ rights, politicians and artists.

Recommendation One:
It is a mistake to attempt to craft policy in response to a single incident.  Bad legislation results from our knee jerk reaction to bad stuff.  I think this is especially true as it relates to mass murders, spree killers and serial killers.   I don’t think we know enough about the problem.  Before we make any changes we need a good analysis of the people who commit these crimes.  Are there any commonalities in the personalities?  In the warning signs?  In weapon choices?  Target selection, etc.  Just as we did with Lyndon Johnson’s Crime Commission we need a presidential commission that studies mass violence in America.  We need clear and concise answers and recommendations from well considered research.

In fact, everything else I am going to recommend is based on my education, training and experience, it isn’t science it is only relatively informed opinion.

Recommendation Two:
Over and over again we hear about mental health issues.  We need to change the ethical and legal mindset of the mental health field.  They must move from having a duty to report to being mandatory reporters.   In many States (perhaps all), there are mandatory reporting laws for child abuse.  We need mandatory reporting laws for potential violence.  Professionals, such as mental health professionals, teachers, police officers and social workers must be legally required to report and investigate potential violence.  Simply, if you know or have reason to know, that someone has access to a firearm and that they have any violent, homicidal or suicidal thoughts, it must be reported to the police.  And, the police must conduct an investigation.

There should be criminal and civil penalties if a mandatory reporter fails to report.  Furthermore, we must look across all 50 States and ensure that the concept of “danger to oneself or others” is clearly defined, consistent and well understood.

Recommendation Three:
If the police become aware, perhaps through a mandatory reporter, that someone has access to firearms and may commit an act of violence, the police must investigate.  Moreover, just as with many domestic violence laws, police must be able to, without warrant, seize firearms until a court hearing.   If someone has a gun or access to a gun, and they act in manner indicating they are a danger to themselves or others, the police should take the gun away.

Recommendation Four:
The sale of firearms is clearly a Federal issue.  We use the Interstate Commerce clause to enforce pot laws.  Yet, a person can’t buy a firearm in California from a private party without going through a standardized process and that same person can purchase from a private party without going through the process in Nevada or Arizona.  Clearly, gun sellers in Arizona have a competitive edge over Californian sellers.   Because guns are easy to transport, conceal and use, we, as Americans, have the right to know that all gun laws are consistent.  At a minimum, every American who purchases a firearm must have a background check, wait the 14 days and register the weapon.

Recommendation Five:
The gun lobby has it right – guns don’t kill people, people kill people.  We need to hold them to that mantra – and register people.  If you want a gun you must take a safety test.  We give simple online tests to people who want a student loan.  We require tests to drive a car.  We must require a simple test on safety and responsibility before the purchase of a firearm.

Recommendation Six:
We must make negligently handling a firearm a criminal offense.  If you don’t store the gun properly (such as locking it up), you should be guilty of a crime.  As a follow on to that, every guns sale should require 1) a trigger lock or 2) an affidavit signed under penalty of perjury that you have a gun safe.  Safely storing a firearm must be a legal requirement.

Recommendation Seven:
We need a greater uniformed police presence at every school.  As long as guns are pervasive in our society, someone is going to use one at a school.   There are too many guns, too many crazy people and too many unprotected children.  Yes, it is expensive – see recommendation seven.

Recommendation Eight:
We should tax firearms, ammunition and gun-related products like we do cigarettes. They have many commonalities – chief among them – when used properly someone dies.   I’m a smoker and I own firearms.  I don’t like the taxes but I get it.  We should use this money to pay for the online testing, the paperwork of registering the firearms and the extra cops.

Recommendation Nine:
People who commit these crimes should become anonymous to society.  We should not speak their names – they are the Oklahoma City Bomber, the Columbine Murderers, etc.  Beginning with our news media we should make it clear that to commit this violence is to become a non-entity.  Indeed, I propose that we create civil law giving the victim’s survivors rights to the offender’s remains.  If the offender is killed during the incident – cremate them, dispose of the ashes and leave no marker – no remembrance.

Recommendation Ten:
I can’t prove it and I know the research is inconclusive, but I think violence in our art (music, television, movies and gaming) is partially to blame for the de-sensitizing of Americans.  All you movie makers who have to show us the exploding heads, you game designers who glamorize violence and you musicians who sing hate – I think you have something to do with it.   Furthermore, I don’t believe art so much reflects life as much as it foreshadows what we can become.  There needs to be a national conversation among artists on violence in their art forms.   There needs to be a paradigm shift in our society regarding violence.  It must become that violence, like racism is unacceptable.  I believe artists should be leading the way.

Recommendation Eleven:
Stop the zero sum politics because it has created a zero sum battlefield.   We seemed to have reached a point where it is all or nothing – either we take all the guns away (the left) or we arm everyone (the right); we are either red or blue.  Well, one thing is for certain – we all bleed red.

About the Author
Lt. Raymond E. Foster, LAPD (ret.) has spent 32 years in law enforcement and education.  After a 24 year career with the LAPD, we has taught a colleges and universities, authored nine books and worked on national as well as international police consulting projects.  You can read more about him at

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