The daily news is chilling; the litany of gun violence well known and clearly reflected in communities across the country. In the first half of 2022, we have the unimaginable murder of elementary school children in Uvalde, Texas, the targeted shooting of black Americans in a grocery store in Buffalo, murders at multiple places of worship, and deadly mass shootings just about anywhere. where people gather in cities across the country. By now, charts and trends are well understood.
While the killings are unacceptable no matter what you call them and are an unspeakable tragedy for the affected families and communities, we have yet to clearly recognize and state: the senseless killing of Americans in their daily lives must be addressed with the same focus and attention . coordinated determination exhibited by our national security company in preventing transnational and domestic terrorist attacks on the homeland. Let’s not forget that the whole concept of national security gained importance after 9/11 because of the need to protect Americans from the terror of attack as we went to work, traveled, and lived our lives.
It has been 10 years since the carnage at Sandy Hook Elementary School. Following the mass shooting of 20 children and six adult staff members, we are part of the interagency team working at the White House, contributing to the President’s plan to protect our children and our communities by reducing gun violence. Sadly, a decade later, mass shootings have increased exponentially. We have reached a point where this epidemic must be addressed as a significant risk to the homeland.
In doing so, we call on the Administration and the Secretary of Homeland Security to raise the profile of gun violence and mass shootings as a national security issue, as we did with terrorism after 9/11, and to put in place plans to tackle it. and make the required programmatic investments in solutions to reduce the risk to the homeland of such shootings.
When we worked at DHS, primarily as part of what is now the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA), we viewed national security through a lens of risk. And we develop models and concepts to identify, assess and mitigate risk from a variety of hazards. Doing so was important because it provided a common language for talking about national security outcomes. By any accounting of the data, the results associated with trends in mass shootings over the past 15 years have been negative. The risks are increasing. It is fair to say, therefore, that our risk mitigation solutions have proven inadequate.
So how do we change that? It begins first with an accounting that what has been done, much of it laudable, has not been up to the challenge. While at DHS, we participated in the efforts that followed a variety of shootings from Sandy Hook to Las Vegas to Parkland. The Department helped increase outreach and funding at the community level, improve active shooter training, increase information sharing between the public and private sectors on enhanced security protocols for infrastructure and soft target protection, strengthen schools, and stimulate research and development against improvised explosive devices. . All this was necessary but not sufficient. It’s time for DHS to do more.
Our agenda to do so would include the following:
- Empower the Secretary as a domestic incident manager to protect communities from mass shootings and lead national prevention and protection efforts in support of communities;
- Leverage the lessons of 9/11 to address terrorist threats and apply them to the threat of domestic terrorism, to include increased funding and partnerships at the community level and a public awareness campaign that updates the successful “see something, say something” approach ;
- Add or expand the success of the Office for Bombing Prevention within CISA to include work to address mass shootings and awareness programs on the danger of military-grade weapons as weapons of destruction;
- Establish Joint Mass Shooting Task Forces, in partnership with the FBI and ATF, and modeled after the successful Joint Terrorism Task Forces (JTTF), with the goal of preventing and disrupting mass shootings by implementing full range of resources available to identify, assist and investigate people in the throes of violence;
- Develop innovative approaches to identify the link between mental health problems and pathways to violence and help communities and schools develop pathways similar to the work that has been done to counter jihadist-inspired violent extremism;
- Think beyond our current federal policy and programs to identify gaps in our risk management approach to addressing the growing threat of mass shootings.
To do this, DHS must invest in programs at CISA and the Office of Policy that focus on prevention and protection at the community level. FEMA rightly focuses on resiliency and emergency management, but we need an effort from other parts of the Department focused on the prevention and protection elements of the preparedness cycle that are most powerful against this threat. Doing so should hopefully return CISA to its balanced approach to cyber and physical security and also recognize and sustain the strategic thinking and innovation that has been done in the Office of Threat and Violence Prevention Policy.
As a country, we have succeeded in reducing the risk of jihadist-driven terrorism over the past 20 years, and we must put that same energy into the current epidemic of gun violence. Doing so will inevitably force DHS closer to the “third rail” of the gun control and mental health debates. We both have our views on those issues but, as security professionals, we are frankly more concerned with recognizing that people with irrational beliefs who are prone to violence and who have access to weapons of destruction are a security risk. Failing to recognize that unnecessarily limits the Department’s suite of security risk management tools. Protecting the rights of legitimate citizens is inherent to national security, but so is preventing terror and attacks on those same citizens. DHS must lean on addressing that balance and not allow the security imperative to fall victim to a hands-off approach that has been put in place to avoid difficult political debates. We urge the Administration and Secretary Mayorkas to act now to address this urgent crisis.