Working to prevent mass shootings

By Mara W. Elliott

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Mara Elliot

Every time I read about a mass shooting somewhere in America, I ask myself: Was this tragedy preventable?

The answer is usually yes. In most cases, perpetrators of mass shootings make their intentions known. Studies show that nearly 80 percent made explicit public threats — often on social media or directly to their intended tar­gets — well in advance of the massacre. Yet in many parts of our country, those “red flags” are ignored.

In San Diego, my Office works every day to keep the unthink­able from happening. Working closely with the courts and law enforcement, our Gun Violence Response Unit acts quickly on threats of gun violence, whether it’s someone intent on suicide, a vengeful ex, or a would-be mass shooter who holds a grudge against a school or workplace. Where warranted, the Unit peti­tions the court for a gun violence restraining order (GVRO), a cri­sis intervention tool that allows law enforcement to temporarily remove access to firearms from individuals who pose a threat to themselves or to others.

In one recent case, a 25-year-old man who was disturbed by COVID closures was regularly attending “Freedom Rallies” with his infant daughter, and calling for mass violence on so­cial media. “Protesting is not the answer,” he posted. “None of this is going to stop without blood­shed.” The morning of the next protest, police served him with a GVRO. They found he’d packed a handgun and ammo into his daughter’s diaper bag.

Another protest-related GVRO was obtained against a 32-year-old man who was posting threats on social media against Demo­cratsandBlac k Live sMatterprotes ters. “AllIwantis a fight and a good death,” he wrote. “I’m ready to die. I welcome Val­halla.” (Valhalla is the Norse heaven, and a term appropriated by white supremacists.) Using a GVRO, police confiscated two unregistered AR-15s and a semi-automatic gun with a silencer.

In the three and a half years since my Office launched Cali­fornia’s first comprehensive GVRO program, we have in­tervened with a GVRO in more than 550 dangerous situations, roughly one-third involving do­mestic violence. Removing ac­cess to firearms from these vola­tile situations not only protects the immediate parties, but can prevent future violence on a larger scale. A study of 749 mass shootings found that 70 percent of the shooters were men with a history of domestic violence.

We believe our quick action saves lives. Here are just a few of the hundreds of dangerous situations in which we’ve inter­vened:

  • A 30-year-old man rented a hotel room in downtown San Diego, across from the federal courthouse. He made videos of himself appearing to do a prac­tice run for a mass shooting, using multiple weapons and “dry-firing” out the window at unsuspecting pedestrians below. Two assault rifles were among the 14 firearms confiscated. All firearms were purchased in the 16-month period leading up to the incident.
  • A 21-year-old man posted a picture of himself holding an AR- 15 rifle on social media with a message saying “RIP” to his for­mer high school. He wrote that no one would be graduating from that zip code, and that he hoped to die.
  • Multiple employees at a mil­itary tech company complained about a 60-year-old co-worker who analyzed mass shootings and bragged he would do it bet­ter. He once commented that it would be easy to do a drive-by shooting while the employees were lined up during a fire drill, and described pointing guns at his neighbors.

Family members, classmates, neighbors, and co-workers are often the first to witness poten­tially dangerous situations. They contact police and we obtain a GVRO before a credible threat becomes a terrifying reality.

My message to you is this: if you know someone who is exhib­iting threatening, dangerous, or suicidal behavior, and they have access to guns, contact law en­forcement immediately.

San Diego is one of America’s safest cities, and with your help, we can keep it that way.

San Diego Police Department’s 24-hour non-emergency number: (619) 531-2000

Call 911 in an emergency.

Mara Elliot is San Diego City Attorney.

Working to prevent mass shootings

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