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Mass Shootings in America: Understanding the Debates, Causes, and Responses
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Introduction It brought the nation to its knees, but now that we have gotten back up how have things changed what have we learned? An inscription on the Wall of Healing at the Columbine Memorial On April 20, 1999, two high school seniors opened fire at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado. By the end of their nearly one-hour-long rampage, 12 stu- dents and a teacher had been killed before the shooters committed suicide (Colum- bine Review Commission, 2001). The Columbine shootings were not a new event, nor would they be the last mass shooting to occur in the United States (Schildkraut & Elsass, 2016). Something about the event, however, changed the way the phe- nomenon of mass shootings, both in and out of schools, was viewed. Columbine came to be viewed as what experts call a “watershed” moment (Muschert, 2002, p. ii see also Altheide, 2009 Kalish & Kimmel, 2010 Larkin, 2007, 2009 Muschert, 2007 Muschert & Larkin, 2007), an archetypal case to which all other mass shootings would be compared. In its wake and in the aftermath of each simi- lar tragedy that followed, the nation has been left with the question inscribed on the memorial: “What have we learned?” The lessons learned in the aftermath of Columbine and other similar tragedies are important for several reasons. First, by examining how these horrific events unfolded, we are better able to work toward addressing such issues that may pre- vent future attacks. Through the years, there have been advances in threat assess- ment protocols, safety measures and practices, and improvements in security technology in response to mass shooting events. Second, advancements in re- sponse protocols for both law enforcement and other first responders, as well as civilians, have been informed by previous tragedies. These reforms have, at least in some cases, shortened the duration of mass shooting events, reduced arrival times for first responders, and potentially mitigated the loss of life. Many of these lessons serve as the foundation for this book and are discussed in the following chapters and sections. The loss of just one life to these senseless acts of violence is one too many. Yet the lessons learned in the aftermath of these tragedies also mean that these lives were not lost in vain. In order for these lessons to evolve, we must be willing to have difficult conversations about issues such as safety, security, mental health, violence in society, and more. These discussions should be sustained yet the