On November 7, 2018, just before midnight, a 28 year old man attacked a country bar in Thousand Oaks, CA, killing 11 people inside plus the first police officer to arrive on the scene, before fatally shooting himself. Many more people suffered gunshot wounds. As I write this the next morning, the story is obviously still unfolding, but certain lessons are clear enough already.
1. NOWHERE IN THE U.S. IS IMMUNE FROM GUN VIOLENCE.
I initially thought about recording a video version of this Adelman on Venues on location in front of one of the country bars in downtown Scottsdale. But why single out places where college kids go to line dance? Even though nightclubs have been the scene of shocking gun violence before, we know this is not just a nightclub issue.
Then I thought about driving to one of my neighborhood synagogues, in recognition of last Saturday’s shooting in Pittsburgh that killed 11 elderly Jews engaged in shabbat prayer. But as much as that despicable anti-Semitism rocks me to my core, we know that gun violence affects houses of worship of other faiths as well.
Or I could have filmed around the corner at a local public school, given that the Borderline Bar & Grill shooting had the most fatalities since Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, FL back in February.
I don’t imagine anyone who has read this far is under the impression that gun violence can’t affect them. But for anyone whose friends or co-workers think they live in a safe little bubble, recent history strongly suggests otherwise. (And as one of my students from that area reminded me, earlier this year Thousand Oaks was rated the third safest city in the U.S. based on FBI and U.S. Census data.)
2. GUARDS OUTSIDE DO NOT STOP ARMED ZEALOTS.
It should not take many examples to make people realize that one of the few things assured by the presence of a security guard outside a public accommodation is that we will know the identity of the first person shot. Borderline had a guard outside — he was the shooter’s first victim, followed shortly thereafter by more security and employees just inside the front door. Seem familiar? Pulse nightclub had a security guard outside too.
3. NEITHER DO THE FIRST ARMED RESPONDERS.
Another blow to the “good guy with a gun” theory of defending public places is that even the first armed responders have met with a notable lack of success apprehending active shooters. It is not a criticism, but with a heavy heart, that I note the valor of the dead and injured law enforcement officers who responded first to the shootings in Los Angeles and Pittsburgh. In both of these places, as well as many others such as Parkland, it has taken the combined forces of many trained professionals working at maximum efficiency to overtake even one active shooter in a crowded public accommodation.
4. THE CROWD DOES ITS BEST WITH POOR INFORMATION.
Security consultants still teach their variations on Run, Hide, Fight as the proper response to an active shooter. It’s fine advice as far as it goes, but Borderline reminds us, yet again, how difficult it is to do in a dark, loud, crowded place. Literally the first article I read this morning was entitled, “Eyewitness Thought Gunfire was Balloons Popping Before Fleeing to Safety.” It included this quote from a 21 year old promoter for the club, who said, typically,
[I]t’s a country bar so we were line dancing … and I heard what I thought was a balloon pop. I was confused because we didn’t have any balloons at the time….
I have seen comments like this from confused patrons and congregants after almost every active shooter incident. And the fear of gunfire is beginning to make people panic even when there is no gun at all.
5. SAME SHOOTING, DIFFERENT DAY.
Given my focus on event and venue security, not law enforcement, I don’t have much professional interest in the motives of a given shooter. I do care very much about the security arrangements and how he shot his way though them.
Last weekend in Pittsburgh, the synagogue shooter used an AR-15 assault rifle, by far the weapon of choice for active shooters. Last night’s shooter was firing a Glock .45 caliber handgun, but it was modified with an extended magazine to fire more than its usual ten rounds.
In both instances, the shooter was an American white male who acquired his weapon legally.
Both shootings this Fall, just like all the other shootings in the U.S. this year, have drawn thoughts, prayers, and pious condemnations of violence and civic discord from elected officials and other would-be leaders. They have not, however, been declared “terrorist” incidents pursuant to any domestic laws, continuing the U.S.’ unblemished record, at least in that singular regard, since September 11, 2001.
And they have not yielded legislative or executive action to make anything described here less likely to happen again.
One of my grandmothers, of blessed memory, had a saying that seems particularly apt at times like this, when we are collectively faced with an insane and unacceptable situation that keeps happening despite the obvious crying need for action.
Don’t let them shit on your head — open your mouth.
Think about it. Then do something to make this better. Because the easy solutions aren’t working, and the next time will be too soon.