By BRIAN A. HOWEY

INDIANAPOLIS  – For most of us waking up last Friday morning, the news that eight Hoosiers had been killed in a massacre at a FedEx facility wasn’t so much a surprise, as a “shock” that it had finally happened. It was the third mass shooting in Indianapolis this year (the two previous events had been “domestic” as opposed to public spates of violence).

There had been 54 mass shooting events since March in the United States, and, according to Gun Violence Archive, 147 such lethal “incidents” in 2021 alone. As this article was being written Tuesday afternoon, an “active shooter” situation was underway in West Hempstead, N.Y.

The FedEx massacre brought on a range of emotion. Gov. Eric Holcomb described himself as “shaken,” Speaker Todd Huston called it “heartbreaking and shocking,” while Senate President Pro Tempore Rod Bray termed it “senseless and completely shocking.” Indianapolis Mayor Joe Hogsett said it delivered a “devastating blow” and warned against “resignation and despair” while urging the community to “engage in serious conversations.”

Indianapolis Democratic Councilor Ali Brown said Friday morning, “It would be absolutely coldhearted of House Speaker Todd Huston, Senate President Rodric Bray, and Governor Eric Holcomb if they failed to address gun violence as the state is currently in session and able to find a solution to this problem. The conversation will be tough, but we must get a firm grip of the situation and the collective epidemic – and if that means passing background check legislation, banning automatic rifles, and advocating for other common-sense gun control measures, let’s get that done immediately.”

President Biden noted “a lone gunman murdered eight people and wounded several more in the dark of night. Today’s briefing is just the latest in a string of tragedies, following closely after gunmen firing bullets in broad day light at spas in and around Atlanta, Georgia, a grocery store in Boulder, Colorado, a home in Rock Hill, South Carolina, and so many other shootings.

“Gun violence is an epidemic in America,” Biden continued. “But we should not accept it. We must act. Last week, I called on the Justice Department to better protect Americans from gun violence. I also urged Congress to hear the call of the American people – including the vast majority of gun owners – to enact common sense gun violence prevention legislation, like universal background checks and a ban of weapons of war and high-capacity magazines. Too many Americans are dying every single day from gun violence. It stains our character and pierces the very soul of our nation.”

Aasees Kaur of the Indianapolis Sikh Coalition spoke with a heavy heart after four members of the Sikh community were murdered at FedEx. “We must support one another, not just in grief, but in calling our policymakers and elected officials to make meaningful change,” Kaur said. “The time to act is not later, but now. We are far too many tragedies, too late, in doing so.”

State Sen. Scott Baldwin, R-Noblesville sent out a press release last Friday vowing to resist any changes in Indiana gun laws. “It is the policy of the Indiana Senate that our state will oppose any correctional taxes, fines, restrictions, prohibitions regarding lawful firearms, accessories or ammunition,” Baldwin said in the release. “Additionally, SR39 states that Indiana will not restrict or limit the sale, possession, distribution of purchasing of firearms and will also protect those who deal and manufacture firearm products that are protected under both the U.S. and Indiana constitutions.”

Hamilton County Democrats responded, accusing Baldwin of not only being “tone deaf” but “alarmingly dangerous.” They said: “It signifies an actively defiant will to ignore the voices of the citizens they are meant to represent, Republican and Democrats alike. As we approach the three-year anniversary of the shooting at Noblesville West Middle School, which took place squarely in Sen. Baldwin’s district and served as a catalyst for a galvanization of Hoosier support for gun-sense legislation, it is clear that the will of the people is still not being heard.”

Baldwin said in a statement provided to HPI Tuesday morning, “The email was drafted earlier in the week, regarding pending 2nd Amendment legislation, and its release was pre-scheduled and regrettably timed. I apologize for that. Please know my family and I are praying for the victims and loved ones impacted by the incomprehensible violence that occurred in our capital city.”

On Tuesday, Gov. Holcomb was asked about initiating “regulatory” and red flag law reforms during the last few days of the current General Assembly session. He said that those should come at the “local and federal levels.”

“The LG and I have talked about this at a very personal level,” Holcomb said of conversations with Lt. Gov. Suzanne Crouch. “The gut punch one feels by comparison to what those families are going through right now ... this will leave a scar both at the workplace and with their families. Our administration will be there for people who need care, both in the workplace and at home. These horrific events are obviously playing out right now at the local level. I don’t think we can make policy in the next 48 hours that’s worthy of this occurrence. We’re watching this play out, appropriately, at the local level and the issues you’ve brought into question are being handled at the right place. It’s an issue for law enforcement at this time, both at the local and federal levels.”

Biden, Hogsett policy response

Of these officials, Biden and Hogsett were alone in attempting a policy response in the current environment. Hogsett noted that he was one of 150 mayors who signed a letter asking the U.S. Senate to expand background checks and close the so-called “Charleston loophole,” the flaw in the National Instant Criminal Background Checks System that allows by default a gun sale if the FBI misses a three-day window to assess the mental and legal credibility of the buyer.

Republicans, from local and the federal level, tended to thank first responders while offering “thoughts and prayers.” Indianapolis City-County Council Republican Leader Brian Mowery, suggested, “This occurrence only strengthens my resolve in working with community partners and leaders to address the rise in violence in our city and the mental health problems that so often underlie these events.” Councilor Michael-Paul Hart added, “Mental illness, when left unchecked, can lead to devastation and is unnecessary. This week our city remembered a fallen IMPD police officer who lost her life one year ago to a mentally ill man with a gun.”

Shooter red flagged

According to multiple media reports, the FexEx shooter, 19-year-old Brandon Scott Hole, had been flagged by his mother under Indiana’s pioneering Jake Laird Red Flag Law as having a “suicide by cop” desire. In a statement, the family said, “We are devastated at the loss of life caused as a result of Brandon’s actions; through the love of his family, we tried to get him the help he needed.”

Hole legally purchased two assault rifles in the summer and fall of 2020 after his family had sought use of the red flag.

According to Marion County Prosecutor Ryan Mears, Hole “was treated by mental health professionals. They didn’t commit him. They didn’t prescribe him any additional medication. He was cut loose. In this particular case, the petition was not filed, because the family had agreed to forfeit the firearm. And they were not going to pursue the return of that firearm. … And so we were able to take a firearm out of that residence.”

Mears called the 14-day window in the 2005 law “too short.” While he drew national criticism for not invoking the red flag against Hole, he noted that his office had filed eight red flag petitions in court so far this year.

While this era of 24/7 cable coverage has heightened awareness of the issue and helped widen the political polarization of the topic, according to a Rand Corporation study, “These mass public shootings are rare events – they constitute less than 15% of all mass killings in the United States and are responsible for less than 0.5% of all homicides.”

From 2016 to 2018, the annual rate of mass public shooting incidents was about one incident per 50 million people in the United States. “Considering the number of fatalities in these shootings, this corresponds to approximately 0.4% of all homicides, or approximately 0.2% of all firearm deaths, over that period,” the Rand study explained.

The Rand study concentrates on the demographic; the perpetrators of mass public shootings in the United States have been overwhelmingly male (98%) and are most commonly non-Hispanic white (61%). In addition, they are commonly younger than age 45 (82%). Yet, the greatest mass killer in U.S. history was Stephen Paddock, a wealthy 64-year-old Nevada man who fired on a Las Vegas music festival, killing 58 and wounding more than 500 people.

Rand adds, “Even if we did have definitive and complete data sources on the characteristics of all mass shooting incidents, it is still likely to be exceedingly difficult to identify useful predictors of mass shootings. With the exception of male sex, risk factors that appear to be overrepresented among mass shooters relative to the general population are often still uncommon among offenders on an absolute level. Thus, even if one could find a way to prevent individuals with a documented serious mental illness from committing a mass shooting – for example, developing and delivering effective treatments to more than 10 million Americans or effectively preventing their access to firearms – most mass shootings would still occur because only a fraction of mass shootings are committed by individuals with a documented history of serious mental illness.”

According to a PMC article by Jonathan M. Metzl, MD, PhD, and Kenneth T. MacLeish, PhD, regression analyses . . . demonstrate that up to 85% of shootings occur within social networks. “In other words, people are far more likely to be shot by relatives, friends, enemies, or acquaintances than they are by lone violent psychopaths.”

Predictive analytics

Tom M. Conley, who owns a Des Moines security company, writes in Security Magazine, that 44 million American adults have a mental health condition. He observes that the rate of youth experiencing a mental health condition continues to rise. The rate of youth with major depressive episode (MDE) increased from 11.93% to 12.63%. Data showed that 62% of youth with MDE received no treatment.

“To me, any individual or individuals who carry out a mass shooting of innocent people meets the definition of being mentally ill,” Conley said. “No ‘normal’ person would ever engage in that type of act. It is clear that adequate funding to help the mentally ill, as well as simultaneously increasing the number of professionals in the mental health workforce, is needed so there is not a shortage of help for those who suffer from mental illness.”

In the biennial budget deal announced by Gov. Holcomb, Huston and Bray on Tuesday, $100 million in additional mental health funding was included.

Conley adds that “predictive analytics” could be a path toward a solution, though not without dilemmas. “There is merit to the government using predictive analytics to try and pinpoint individuals who are likely to carry out an act of violence, provided the constitutional rights on the part of the individual or individuals that are being investigated are not violated,” Conley writes. “The artificial intelligence component of predictive analytics supercharges this process. Predictive analytics has shown a lot of promise in being able to help avert terrorist attacks. We need predictive analytics that will find and identify evil. One of the main challenges of allowing the government to use predictive analytics is the fact that people no longer trust the government.”

Conley also puts the brunt of workplace security responsibility on the employer. “While there are meaningful actions the government can take to help impact mass shootings, it was the Walmart corporation’s numerous security failures, not the lack of prior government action, that was the direct and proximate cause of the mass shooting in El Paso,” Conley said of the 2019 massacre at an El Paso Walmart.
 
“The safety and security of an organization’s employees, customers and guests is first and foremost the job of the organization’s leaders, and not public safety,” Conley continued. “Organizations need to start taking their security seriously and the government needs to take meaningful action that it can within the Constitution of the United States of America, to help reduce mass shootings.”

A continued perfect storm

What the United States faces is a mental health crisis that plays out as “breaking news” on cable outlets, which tends to perpetrate copycat scenarios. Add to this fact that the U.S. is awash in weaponry, with more guns than people, with much of the Republican Party believing that the 2nd Amendment is sacrosanct and thus not to be reformed, and is committed to low tax rates that often mean that mental health services are vastly underfunded and understaffed.

This perfect storm in mass killings will likely to continue until someone who is so diabolical emerges from the shadows, killing an unfathomable number of people in a sacred place, that it tips the political and funding scales into a much more dynamic action.