Friday, January 11, 2013

Where did the gun come from?

Yesterday morning at 11:30, Bill Kuehn, the security director at Lincoln public schools, and I had a speaking engagement at the Leadership Lincoln hot topics luncheon, well-attended by about 50 past and present Leadership Lincoln fellows.  The topic was school safety, in the wake of the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, CT.

There was a spirited Q&A, with lots of strong feelings and opinions, and a dose or two of reality. There are 76 public and parochial K-12 schools in Lincoln, and at any given time, we average about 42 uniformed officers on the street. Moreover, at key times when school begins and dismisses, we are already in the midst of two of our three daily peaks:  those officers for the most part are already responding to the plethora of incidents described in excruciating detail in the pages of this blog for the past six years.  It costs about $79,000 per year to keep a single police officer on the job; composed of salary, benefits, equipment, and mileage. That doesn't even factor in the indirect costs: worker's compensation, training, supervision, liability insurance, support services, and so forth.  Police officers are an expensive resource, and we have been struggling mightily in the past decade trying to keep up with population growth and budget constraints.

Bill and I had been outlining what is being done now to keep schools safe, and what things are under consideration as cities and school districts around the country are examining this issue anew.  As we were speaking, the news was breaking--unbeknownst to either of us--about another school shooting in Taft, California.  The irony is hard to escape.  The looming question, hovering in the meeting room during the luncheon and my living room after the nightly news last night is this: "What can we do?"

I have no profound answer to this question, but I do think there is something to be learned by "reverse engineering" these episodes: studying how they happened, what the precursors were, and especially this: "Where did the gun come from?"  We know that in many cases (such as Sandy Hook) the guns came from home: they belonged to mom or dad or some other family member.  They were unsecured or very lightly secured, and the shooter essentially just helped himself.  I'm wagering that the Taft Union High School shooting follows that same pattern, but I imagine we shall see in the next few days.  My experience with local cases where teens a have wreaked havoc with guns is just that: it was easy for them to take an unsecured weapon and ammunition from the home.

Every time you hear of one of these tragic cases where a young person commits a crime, a murder, or suicide with a firearm, ask that question: "Where did the gun come from?" I think there are some pretty obvious steps that might help, based on the most common answers.  If we can make it more difficult for a psychologically unhinged or just foolishly reckless young person to acquire the guns, we have made it less likely that he or she, in a moment of disconnect from reality or utter failure to comprehend consequences, is able to complete an unthinkable and irrevocable act of violence.


Steve said...

I agree it is unfortunate in many of these cases how easy it was for the shooter to obtain the gun. The sad truth in many of these cases is that the shooter had a dysfunctional life in one way or another, often beginning with a lack of good parenting. Bullying in school also seems a common theme, or at least some form of isolation at school. I'm not sure what we can do about either of these problems. I know schools are trying to reduce bullying by trying to get kids to recognize that the bully is the one in the wrong, not the one being bullied. Given human nature, I'm not sure how effective that approach will be.

I'm afraid many people are leaning toward the idea of making the gun owner responsible if someone else uses their gun in a crime. That approach may, or may not, get more gun owners to be more conscientious about storage of their firearms, but even if it does, it is no guarantee they are safe. Those who commit these atrocities often spend a great deal of time planning them. They are smart enough to figure out a way to get the guns, whether it be through deception, forced entry, or even threats or assault against those with the keys or combinations. To then hold the owner responsible is ludicrous. Should the owners of Scheel's be responsible for all the crimes committed with the guns stolen there? Should Adam Lanza's mother have been prosectuted (had she lived)?

The other problem with that idea is that a gun locked up is a gun useless for self-defense, and that is the reason many gun owners have one in their homes. If these people could carry their firearms on them at all times, it would pretty much eliminate them being taken without permission, but that is impractical for most people.

The overriding fact, in my opinion, is that the number of guns taken without permission from gun owners is miniscule compared with the number of guns as a whole. To require millions and millions of gun owners to secure their weapons, or hold them liable, in order to stop a handful of unauthorized acquisitions seems a bit too much, especially when you realize that it probably won't solve the problem.

Even if such legislation were to pass, it will likely be too little too late. Some kid will take his dad's rifle and kill a bunch of people, kill himself, and then we'll prosecute his dad for not locking them up. The victims will still be dead.

Anonymous said...

When I was in high school back in the late '70s, there were a number of kids who had shotguns and rifles in their cars/trucks. Nobody ever shot anyone with any of them. Teachers and other school personnel would sometimes witness guns being moved from one vehicle to another in the parking lot before or after school, perhaps only commenting on how the kids must have been up early to have time to go road-hunting before school.

Of course, almost no one was on crazy pills (anti-depressants and other psychiatric meds) in those days, and no-father homes, while not unknown, were quite rare, at least at that high school.

Anonymous said...

Do I smell a local ordinance regarding secure firearm storage being cobbled together for after (or perhaps before) the May election? They could use that nanny-town registration database they have, and require anyone on it to prove (to a police officer in their home) that they have the mandated storage contraptions by such and such a date, or they confiscate all the firearms in the house. I wouldn't put it past them.

Tom Casady said...


A locked up gone is NOT useless for self-defense. I had that same concern at one time, but over the past 30 years, the technology has improved and there are some very nice (and not all that expensive) rapid-access gun safes now, that still offer a fair degree of security and would slow you down nary a whit. They could be even better, and probably would be if a demand arose for cheaper, simpler, and even more secure options.

Let me make an analogy: 30 years ago, virtually no one wore a bicycle helmet. Now, they are incredibly common. The great majority of serious bicyclists wouldn't dream of leaving home without one. If you walk into the Bike Rack or Cycle Works, there is a large and varied inventory at many price points.

Bike helmets used to be hot, heavy, and ugly. Now they are light, cool, and "cool"--actually making something of statement about the wearer. Helmets aren't required by law, but their usage has just skyrocketed. Part of this was improved technology, some of it was more awareness of head injury risks, and a lot of it was just a social phenomenon that transformed the image a bike helmet from "nerd" to "enthusiast."

Maybe the same thing could happen with firearms storage. Maybe the NRA, the AMA, the local police department, health department, gun writers, manufactures, advertisers, and so forth could start educating, advocating, and marketing secure gun storage. Maybe the increased demand would result in better and better products. Maybe the day could come when firearms aficianados--notorious gear connoisseurs--would lust after the latest-and-greatest biometric box, and when failing to keep your firearms in a safe would mark you as a rank amateur--which is pretty much how an avid cyclist views a helmetless rider he or she encounters on the trail.

Another example: the University of Nebraska Police Department offers free gun lockers to students, so they have a secure place to store firearms, without violating any campus policies, running the risk of theft, and still having (for example) a shotgun available on campus for pheasant season.

I've been thinking that it might be worthwhile to offer secure storage for firearm owners who just want to temporarily get a gun out of the house.

I can just think of all sorts of ways you could promote and encourage practices that make it less likely a hormonal teenager, a curious sixth grader, or a severely depressed family member will easily get that gun from the closet shelf or the basement case.

Tom Casady said...


If you smell something like that, you must be suffering from some sort of olfactory hallucination.

Steve said...


I don't own one, but I've researched various gun safes such as those you are describing. The problem is that at this time, they are pretty expensive. I would also be concerned about their reliability. Certainly you are aware of the limitations of a lot of this new electronic stuff in that regard. I don't know how much better they are now, but I know the earlier finger print readers, voice recognition systems, and many other similar things that were supposed to make life easier didn't work worth a darn. Some still don't. I have little to fear in my situation, no kids at home, etc., as far as having one or more of my guns taken without permission. Sure, there is the possibility of a burglar getting in while I'm away, but anything that would stop them once inside would be a rather large investment (I've priced gun safes), which I don't have. I do lock my guns when I feel it appropriate, company comes with kids, or something like that, but with determination, they could still be accessed. I'll even take them somewhere else if I'm going to be gone long.

I'd be more than happy to lock them all up if I had a reliable means of doing so that still provided quick access and didn't cost an arm and a leg.

I bet if you did offer a place at the station to take in guns from people who just wanted them out of the house, you might get more than you bargained for.

Dog Mom said...

Thanks so much for speaking to the group. I was there and a lot of good points were made. What was clear is that people have different opinions and are passionate about those opinions.

I think that LPD is on the right track with threat assessment and action to prevent someone from doing harm anywhere. Thank you to LPS for continuing to work with LPD to discuss additional threat assessment and communication strategies. Please don't forget about the parochial schools.

The last statement came from someone who said her child feels safe at school. The children are what matter.

Tom Casady said...


They're better now. Still, most are electronic, and prone to a dead battery if you're not diligent (like a smoke detector). Not all, though. This is a little dated now, but a good review of criteria to consider, and pros and cons of some of the products. I have a feeling that if the demand were greater, we'd see more offerings that meet all 8 requirements, and at lower prices.

I think you're right about offering temporary storage. I wonder if you could make a go of that as a commercial endeavor for a few bucks. Probably not--yet.

Anonymous said...

"...olfactory hallucination...",that's funny!

Steve said...

Thanks for the link to the review; it was very informative, and I liked the writer's style and logic. It's been a while since I've looked for something like this, but maybe it's time to look again. There are certain things I'm really "into" and I typically buy the early models (think Beta video recorders) when they are extremely expensive. Then, in a year or two the prices come down and I feel like a fool. I paid nearly two grand for a flat screen TV a few years ago, and now I can get one twice the size for one fourth the price. :(

I'm probably more likely to be hit by lightning than to have one of my guns taken without permission, but it wouldn't be too hard to adequately secure all my firearms, leaving just one that needs to be accessible for home defense, and if I can find a product that suits my needs for a reasonable price I will get it.

That being said, I would still disagree with any law that made it mandatory to lock up a gun, or that held a gun owner liable for the unauthorized taking and use of his/her gun.

Maybe my new line of work could be gun storage! Thanks for the idea! I'm guessing the insurance will kill the idea, though.

Steve said...

By the way, Tom, do you have something against "robots" commenting on your blog? :)

Anonymous said...

"olfactory illusion"

Really? That's smarmy of you. No, I knew I smelled something, but it was coming from the statehouse (and one of the usual nannyish suspects), instead of city hall.

Still, this blog being followed by Ashford's bill introduction seems to be more than coincidental. There can be more behind-the-scenes collusion between legislators and municipal gub'mints than many might imagine. I'll introduce this bill, you help grease public opinion, wink, wink.

I wonder if he ever introduced a bill that would hold parents similarly accountable if a child or mentally-ill adult had unauthorized access to their car keys and went out and hurt themselves while driving it? Somehow, I doubt it. Too many voters potentially alienated that way, whereas this gun bill probably won't alienate anyone that doesn't despise Ashford already.

Tom Casady said...


You are seeing conspiracies where none exist. I haven't talked to anyone at all about any legislation whatsoever, and I already described (above) my thoughts on how we might promote safe storage of firearms, which is not a legislative approach at all. I haven't spoken to the senator in over a year, at which time we exchanged about two words: "Hello, Senator." And why on earth, if I was orchestrating some kind of back-room strategy, would I blather about it in my blog? Good grief, I am an open book: every week I tell anyone who cares to read about it what I'm thinking about and working on.

Do you really think that I invented the idea that people ought to keep their guns and ammo away from their disturbed kids, and no one would have thought about that without my rather obscure little blog? We're you really not expecting that lawmakers here and there would be dreaming up all sorts of proposals in the wake of the Sandy Hook massacre?

My whole point in the bicycle helmet analogy, and the UNL locker story was that you can accomplish some things--independent of any legislation--that people of all political persuasions ought to be able to get behind, or at least tolerate.

Anonymous said...

Remember the time when the city attorney helped write that revenue-grabbing red light camera bill (which crashed and burned in committee), that was rumored to have been submitted by a city official through their legislator? That bill was spoken fondly of in this blog, wasn't it? That was arguably collusion between the city and the legislature.

Anonymous said...

I have been working on an idea for a new type of handgun holster for several years. My holster will offer the user extremely quick access to his weapon, be easily concealed or carried openly and provide security in a struggle. It will also offer a built in trigger lock for safe temporary storage. I have spent a lot of time and effort on this and my dumpster has been filled with failed attempts. I am moving to a new home this spring and when I get settled in to my new garage workshop I will be testing prototypes. Next I will begin the patent process. It has been a long struggle but I think I am getting close. When I have the prototypes ready I will send you a couple for field testing and evaluation if that is OK with you?
Gun Nut

Tom Casady said...

Gun Nut,

You bet. I'd love to. Watch Shark Tank on Friday nights. Patent applications are important.

Steve said...

From what I have read, there is some controversy on this idea, but I honestly think some of the "smart gun" technology will eventually make trigger locks and gun safes unneccessary (at least so far as prohibiting unauthorized use). I suppose someone could still steal the firearm, but what good would it do if they can't shoot it? The major argument from gun enthisiasts is reliability, and I can understand that. However, if the alternative (gun safes and/or trigger locks) is no more reliable, then I'd just as soon have the technology in the gun. It almost certainly would make access faster while maintaining the same degree of protection against unauthorized use.

Tom Casady said...


Secret or illegal cooperation or conspiracy, esp. in order to cheat or deceive others.

I don't know how resolve your belief in some sort of non-existsnt conspiracy. I guess it's your problem, not mine.

The City of Lincoln did not engage in collusion, with respect to legislation enabling photo enforcement. Rather, it was advocacy. There was nothing secretive or deceptive at all. Cities (and counties) propose and advocate for legislation as a matter of course. Some even emply lobbyists. So do ther associations, such as the Nebraska League of Municiplaities, and the Nebraska Association of Public Officials. With respect to photo enforcement, this issue has regularly been on the City's legislative agenda, which commonly receives media attention, and our support was way out in the wide open.

What I keep telling you--and you apparently refuse to believe--is that the City (and yours truly) has neither advocated nor proposed any legislation, State, Federal, or Municipal-- pertaining to firearms in recent years or in response to Sandy Hook. If we did, it wouldn't be a secret.

'Nuff said.

Conspiracy Theorist said...

I knew it! You did this topic just so you could plug the TV show Shark Tank.

Just kidding.

Steve said...

I'm jealous; I don't think I've ever been called smarmy.

Anonymous said...

More than a few LPD officers own personal clip-fed .223/5.56 semi-automatic rifles that are sometimes carried in their cruiser when on-duty, and these are often stored in their homes or POVs when the officer is off-duty. Is there a general order requiring that these rifles be securely stored to prevent unauthorized access or is there just a suggestion that this be done?