What if he pulls a gun? Active shooter training now a tragic necessity

An FBI agent talks to a potential witness and victim near the scene of the bar in Thousand Oaks where a gunman opened fire Wednesday night, killing 12.
An FBI agent talks to a potential witness and victim near the scene of the bar in Thousand Oaks where a gunman opened fire Wednesday night, killing 12. AP

My wife demanded I change my pants before I left the house last Thursday morning. “I can see your (pistol) bulge,” she said.

She also wanted to know why I wanted to take a gun to the “Joint Active Shooter Awareness Briefing,” but I couldn’t quickly explain an experience from the mid 1980s so I resorted to stereotypes. “The training is in Stockton,” I said, finally, and slid the Glock into my backpack in silence.

Mine, like 110,000 other small businesses in California, use the State Fund for workman’s compensation insurance. For years I’ve scrolled past State Fund email invitations to trainings in ergonomics, accident prevention and safe handling of hazardous chemicals. But the “Active Shooter” workshop it was offering to make the workplace safer was a big departure. And it shook me.

Must I really learn SWAT tactics to protect my people from getting shot doing our gig?

Concerning the number of incidents in America each year, the most recent of which left 12 dead in Ventura this week, the answer is sadly obvious.

The State Fund insurance hosted the event in a spacious meeting room in mid-Stockton, but it was agents from the Department of Homeland Security who did the presentation. Chris Reidel, who said he has 22 years experience as a Marine and defense contractor, led the sessions. He quickly steered the discussion from “active shooter” to “active assailant” so he could account for weapons like vehicles or explosives in workplace assaults.

From an FBI study entitled “Active Shooter Incidents in the United States From 2000 to 2017,” we learned that 96 percent of shooters were male and alone while 63 percent of incidents occurred in places of commerce or education. The most common identified motive, workplace retaliation, occurred in 24 percent of cases.

Over three hours, Reidel skillfully discussed some common escalation patterns of troubled employees called the “Pathway to Violence.” He suggested how timely interventions through our EAP (employee assistance program) could save a lot of lives.

During a break, I asked Reidel if there was any evidence this stuff worked, that presentations like these really helped employees deal with active-shooter sitations, I meant active-assailant situations. I also asked if anyone studied this to make sure trainings didn’t make things worse. Could talking about shooting make certain people more likely to shoot?

He looked puzzled and replied, “We (DHS) have over 100 trainers who’ve given thousands of presentations like these, and we’ve never had any kind of problem afterward. Never. We’ve only gotten positive feedback.”

He’s right, of course. His presentation could not be a problem. Problem was, in high school, in 1986, I witnessed one of the first “suicide clusters” in Omaha. Three teens from two different high schools committed suicide. School administrators all over town threw together suicide awareness programs, rammed us through, then two more students killed themselves.

Sociologists call this “suicide contagion” and have learned that presenting certain deadly topics to certain vulnerable folks tips them. The wrong way.

Most shooters have particular tendencies, behavioral and thought patterns that are literally dangerous to reveal, so we shouldn’t talk about them in an open forum.

I’m not suggesting throwing out active-assailant training for the public. I’m saying, study it first, then bring proven methods forward.

One modestly effective intervention is insidious gun confiscation known as “red flag” laws. Since 2016, if a family member or police officer in California can convince a judge a person is a threat and gets a restraining order, the gun owner is required to surrender all guns for 21 days before a hearing – which might extend the “no possess, no buy” order for a year.

Indiana has a similar red flag law that was associated with a 7.5 percent reduction while Connecticut had a 13.7 percent reduction in firearm suicides when enforcement of the law ramped up over the last six years. Sure, a vindictive spouse or small-town sheriff can make up crazy stuff and snatch your guns for a few weeks. But these laws look like they might actually slow the workplace slaughter, and certainly that’s better than simply more talking about it.

California passed AB2888 in August, expanding the circle of citizens who could ask for gun restraining orders to co-workers and school personnel, those most likely to observe threatening behavior and end up as victims. Gov. Jerry Brown vetoed it in September.

Gun lovers should do two things: Ask the new legislature to bring the bill back, pass it and then ask the new governor to sign it. Then they should donate some money to the Madison Society to defend the inevitable good guy who gets caught up in judicial mission-creep.

Enough with talking about it. Too much talk might cause the next problem.

Steve Taylor, a resident of Oakdale, is a behavior analyst. Send questions or comments to columns@modbee.com.