Last weekend’s toll is 31 dead and more than 48 injured in a single 24-hour period from Saturday morning to early Sunday. Instead of a year averaging more than one mass shooting (of four or more people) per day, which is the current trajectory, 2019 should be the year the United States finally commits to finding a solution to this particularly American problem.
Mass shootings produce shock and the pain of lost lives and shattered security. Because that initial response is so strong and the shooters are almost always dead, the acts seem random, and people feel helpless to do anything about them. However, they are not random, and Americans are not helpless.
The links that exist among actions by individuals, who are not in direct contact with one another, not controlled by a command structure, not in the same place or not on a fixed schedule, are discoverable in a world in which massive amounts of data can be collected and analyzed.
Those links could be ideas or motivating language shared on social-media platforms. They could be visual or language triggers shared by individual actors who may be mentally ill, socially isolated or personally aggrieved.
Whatever the links are, the current response to mass shootings is unlikely to produce adequate solutions for stopping them.
Follow-up investigations are the purview of local authorities that have no official connection to one another. Even when federal agencies like the FBI become involved, their role is that of law enforcement, not prevention.
The mass shooting epidemic calls for a massive, resource-focused, data-driven analysis more typical of fighting Ebola. The kind of deep data analysis that is standard in preventing and responding to disease outbreaks could be used to identify and disrupt the links that may move disturbed individuals to become mass killers.
We need a Center for Mass Shootings Control, a federal-level, independent agency modeled on the scientific research design of the Centers for Disease Control. Its charge would be to identify the underlying causes of mass shootings and to find the answer to why they happen here in the United States.
Last weekend could not have been a more clarion call. Instead of acting helpless in the face of mass shootings, it is time for Americans to believe that we can and must find the ways to end them.