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3 Things Movies & TV Get Wrong About Active Shooter Situations

How accurate are entertainment media portrayals of active shooter situations? If you guessed “not very,” you’re on the right track. Responsible media consumption requires us to have a factual understanding of what we view on television and in movies. Here are three things TV and movies get wrong about active shooter situations.


Most Active Shooter Situations Are Not in Schools


School shootings account for a small percentage of both mass shootings and on-campus gun-related incidents in the United States. Focusing on data that spans roughly the last two decades, research shows that of the 20 to 30 mass shootings that happen per year, on average only one of them takes place in a school. Further, of incidents that do occur on school campuses, few of them are mass killings. (A mass killing is defined by the FBI as an instance where four or more people are killed, excluding the shooter.) Mass school shootings account for less than one percent of gun-violence incidents on K-12 campuses, according to a recent report by the nation’s two largest teacher’s unions and Everytown for Gun Safety.


Of the school based incidents, just over half were intentional, small-scale shootings as a result of an escalated argument, acts of domestic violence, parking lot altercations, and robberies. Unintentional shootings and uncategorized shootings, or those classified as legal intervention, i.e. law enforcement firing at a potential shooter constitute just over 30%. 12% are acts of suicide or death attempts. Mass school shootings like the tragedy in Parkland, FL are an “anomaly within the landscape of gun violence in the U.S.” (The Atlantic).


There Is No One “Profile”


It is a media-perpetuated myth that there is one profile that fits a potential shooter. (Think: trenchcoat, socially awkward, hiding a traumatic past, or suffering from mental illness.) In reality, there is not one useful profile of a mass shooter. However, there is a lot we can learn and gain awareness of through behavior observation.


Recent reports from the U.S. Secret Service National Threat Assessment Center and the FBI show that, while the 63 shooters investigated in their study could not be linked by their demographics alone, the Secret Service and FBI noted that 62% had a history of violence, harassment, and oppressive behavior. 16% had committed acts of domestic violence, and 11% had engaged in stalking related conduct (Kera News).


Further, according to the FBI, only 25% of active shooters between 2000 and 2013 had ever been diagnosed with a mental illness. The American Psychiatric Association published a report stating that mass shootings by people diagnosed with serious mental illness make up less than 1% of all annual gun-related homicides (Kera News).


It’s worth emphasizing here: the vast majority of people with mental illnesses never commit violent crimes. Behavior is a much better indicator and warning sign regarding a potential threat to harm from an individual.


The Police Are Not There To Negotiate


We’ve all seen the episode of the crime TV show where police officers or special agents tactfully negotiate with a shooter holding hostages inside a building until a SWAT team busts in to save the victims. Whether in a school, a bank, or a public place, the average time of an active shooting incident is under twelve minutes; 69% are done in under five minutes, which is typically how long it would take for law enforcement to begin to arrive.

First responders don’t set up tents and ear-wigs to try and trick the shooter into surrendering; they form contact teams and do what they can to gain entry and neutralize the immediate threat. They may have to walk by wounded people in order to secure the area and ensure that no one else gets hurt. The Rescue Task Force (RTF) will follow, evacuating people and saving lives. For the most part, the only people standing around outside are going to be at a casualty station providing medical attention, not negotiating with a mass shooter.


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