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SALT LAKE CITY — Mass shootings at schools and on university campuses, in pubs and restaurants, in malls and at theaters beg the questions, “could you be at risk?” and “is your family at risk?” The answers are yes and yes, in exactly the way that you and your family are at risk of being struck by lightning and at about the same probability.
The National Weather Service says that an average of 54 people are killed each year by lightning in the United States. The same report gives the probability of a person being struck by lightning at one in 700,000 in any one year.
The statistics for mass shootings, compiled by James Alan Fox, the Northwestern University Lipman Family Professor of Criminology, Law and Public Policy, show the following:
- 2007: 23 incidents
- 2008: 29 incidents
- 2009: 27 incidents These numbers were determined using a four-victim minimum. Criminologists typically use four or more victims as the defining characteristic of a mass shooting incident. Even one of these incidents is far too many, but the overwhelming media reaction can cause a miscalculation of the potential risk.
Even one of these incidents is far too many, but the overwhelming media reaction can cause a miscalculation of the potential risk.
As always following an incident like the one in Aurora, Colo., the debate for and against gun control can reach histrionic levels. This is a conversation that needs to be held, but the reality is that any change in the law will not affect the security profile in the near term, nor, many experts agree, would it have prevented the Aurora theater tragedy.
But, just like lightning, there are steps to take that can lower the risk. The first step is the realization that security and convenience are mutually exclusive. There are certain to be some changes in public places to increase security that will to some extent inconvenience us. Be prepared to accept this.
Unfortunately, mass shootings take place where people congregate, and none of us is ready to turn all our public spaces into secured fortresses.
When going anywhere, consider escape routes and know where the exit doors are. Look for areas that could provide cover. Sit on the outside of rows rather than in the middle, which can allow for easy and immediate exit. When in a restaurant, sit near an emergency exit. Stay on the edge of large crowds, not in the middle. This is not paranoia, it is simply situational awareness.
Do not let the fear of this type of thing happening keep you from going to the movies or anywhere else you may want to go.
Do not let the fear of this type of thing happening keep you from going to the movies or anywhere else you may want to go — in exactly the way you don’t let the fear of an auto accident keep you from driving or riding in a car.
By the same token, don’t wave a metal rod in the air during a thunderstorm, take some simple precautions and be aware of your surroundings when you choose to go, and go and enjoy the event.
Guy Bliesner is a longtime educator, having taught and coached tennis and swimming. He is school safety and security administrator for the Bonneville School District in Idaho Falls, Idaho.