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NRA's flawed strategy

Posted by James Alan Fox, Crime and Punishment December 21, 2012 04:00 PM

After days of suspense wondering how the NRA would, as promised, contribute to the growing array of recommendations for enhancing school safety, we have its simple solution. Wayne LaPierre, Executive Director of the NRA, has suggested that we equip every school in America -- schools of every size, level, and type -- with an armed guard, someone who would be prepared to ward off any dangerous intruder.

Never mind that most school homicides are perpetrated by insiders, typically disgruntled students not deranged strangers. Never mind that thousands of schools already have sworn police officers on site.


Top 10 myths about mass shootings

Posted by James Alan Fox, Crime and Punishment December 19, 2012 08:45 AM

Even before the death toll in last Friday’s school massacre in Newtown, Conn., was determined, politicians, pundits, and professors of varied disciplines were all over the news, pushing their proposals for change. Some talked about the role of guns, others about mental-health services, and still more about the need for better security in schools and other public places. Whatever their agenda and the passion behind it, those advocates made certain explicit or implied assumptions about patterns in mass murder and the profile of the assailants. Unfortunately, those assumptions do not always align with the facts.


Preventing mass murder: No easy solutions

Posted by James Alan Fox, Crime and Punishment December 15, 2012 01:30 PM

In the wake of Friday’s massacre at the Sandy Hook elementary school in Newtown, Conn., many Americans, some living near the crime site and others located hundreds of miles away, have described a sense of helplessness.

Understandably, people want and need to believe there are constructive measures that can make us and especially our children safer -- specific policies, procedures or programs that can prevent this kind of tragedy from recurring elsewhere, including their own local community. Parents, in particular, are left imagining the incredible pain that the families in Newtown must endure.

So what indeed can be done? What ideas have surfaced in the aftermath of this senseless slaughter, and what are their prospects for making a significant difference?


Mass murder -- Horrible enough without hype

Posted by James Alan Fox, Crime and Punishment December 14, 2012 07:00 PM

I have grown accustomed to the massive media attention and frantic search for breaking news developments associated with mass murder. However, the seemingly insatiable need for some journalists to create a context for tragedy is mystifying.

Barely two hours after Tuesday's shooting at a Portland, Oregon shopping mall, I received several calls from points far west inquiring whether mass shootings were on the rise. Following high profile massacres in Aurora, Colorado and Seattle, Washington earlier this year, reporters and news editors wanted to confirm their perceptions with reality. They also wanted to know wether the Oregon shooter may have been modeling the Colorado theater massacre.

I assured all those who asked that such tragedies we not a sign of an upward trajectory. Rather, our collective memories seem to forget or move past other anxious times when mass shootings have clustered in time, for the most part out of sheer coincidence. Although there have been cases in which mass gunmen have derived inspiration from others who preceded them, and perhaps wanted a share of the notoriety that follows, the impact of copycatting is often overstated.

Curiously, the response from those who called about such a trend was more disappointment than relief. Innocent people were killed senselessly, and that wouldn't be any worse or better were it part of an emerging pattern.

Then, of course, came the Newtown, Connecticut shooting which claimed that lives of more than two dozen victims, mostly young children. As the tragedy was unfolding and before any perpetrator or motive was identified, scores of journalists, from all forms of media and from here and abroad were phoning to ask whether this was the worst school shooting in history. It didn't matter that deadlier episodes had happened overseas (the 2004 school siege in Russia), at a college setting (Virginia Tech in 2007) or involving means other than gunfire (the 1927 school explosion in Bath, Michigan), reporters were eager to declare the Sandy Hook massacre as some type a new record.

There isn't a Hall of Fame for criminals. There is no purpose in looking for record-setting. Does the pain and suffering associated with the Sandy Hook school shooting change in anyway if it is the largest? Would that make it any more important? I trust I need not answer these rhetorical questions.

About the author

James Alan Fox is the Lipman Family Professor of Criminology, Law, and Public Policy at Northeastern University. He has written 18 books, including his newest, "Violence and Security on Campus: From Preschool through College." More »

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