My re-entry on Sunday from a (media-free) vacation included a check of the Commonweal blogs and website to see what I’d missed during my week away. E.J. Dionne Jr.’s column on standing up to the gun lobby was one of my first reads, and if you haven’t gotten to it yet, it’s still available here.
Later in the day I found a sort of related story at Bloomberg BusinessWeek, detailing the availability of a “survival plan” from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security that I had not been aware of. It includes booklets, posters, pocket cards, and other materials you might expect in a government-issued kit aimed at helping citizens contend with hurricane, fire, or flood. Only this particular guide offers what the reporter calls “pointers” for making it through a shooting spree alive.
“Active Shooter: How to Respond” (.pdf) was actually released about four years ago, and it’s been a popular if depressingly necessary read among retailers, mall operators, and, increasingly, other companies “throughout the private sector.” More than 125,000 people have “trained” in the DHS Active Shooter Program since its inception, aided lately in part by the addition of online quizzes and other interactive components.
The Bloomberg BusinessWeek article acknowledges that the program may remind some people of how schoolchildren were once told to hide under their desks in the event of nuclear attack. But it does better by quoting Colin Goddard, of the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence: “It’s pretty messed up that the U.S. government treats these shootings like they would a natural disaster.”
Congress and President George W. Bush wasted little time in getting the DHS up and running in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, and by 2010 the agency had more than 225,000 employees and an estimated budget of $55 billion. In about half that time, there have been enough mass shootings in the United States to fill out a Brady Campaign listing (.pdf) that runs to 62 pages; just since January 2011, there have been 60 massacres, to use the group’s term.
These are not acts of God, not, as Goddard puts it, “something that can’t be prevented.” Yet there hasn’t been even a remotely comparable degree of mobilization against such unrelieved violence. Only a guide to making it out alive, which might be about as good as the amount of luck you also get. Goddard speaks to that too: Despite being struck by four bullets, he survived the 2007 Virginia Tech shootings.