Coming to terms with the terms of gun violence
It was December 1943, and the Allies knew that if they could only open up a second front it would relieve the pressure on the Soviet Union in the east, and by combining that with the liberation of France it could greatly result in a weakened German stranglehold in western Europe. Yet on this particular day, the international command team of the Supreme Allied Commander Allied Expeditionary Force led by its newly chosen commander, American General Dwight D. Eisenhower, met in a dimly lit room in St. Jame’s Square, London, to further discuss the cross-channel invasion eventually codenamed “Operation Overlord.” Deception campaigns were the focus of the better half of the meeting aimed at drawing the German’s attention away from Normandy. However, everyone was anxious to hear when the two phased assault would take place and if the logistics originally proposed by Lieutenant General Sir Frederick E. Morgan would be approved. You could feel the tension in the air when Morgan rose and stridently spoke the words, “I would like to now table our discussion related to D-Day.” With much surprise and disbelief the American brass in the room, to include Eisenhower, stood up and exited the room leaving behind the British commanders with a look of rejection on their faces. Their work was not done.
Once upon a time, I heard the story above. To this day, I have no idea if it was in fact true. I cannot find any record of it; however, what matters most is the important message it yields. You see, the meaning of ‘to table something” can be quite different depending on from where you hail. For Americans, to table something means to remove from consideration indefinitely. Yet, for the British, to table something actually means to place something on the agenda. It is a story that serves to remind us that when we communicate we need to take into account the listener. In fact, it is the listener that plays a much more significant role in the conversation particularly when the speaker has initiated a call for action. The moral of this story is that when we discuss complex problems, concepts, and initiatives it critical that we acknowledge the terms we use to ensure they are understood.
Such is the case when we discuss violence committed with guns. War, terrorism, targeted violence, domestic violence, workplace violence, street violence, school violence, active shooters are many of the reference labels that are placed on incidents of bloodshed involving a gun. Yet, because the motivations of each of these incidents may be different – whether slightly or drastically - it is important that we take the time to ensure that in our discussions to better understand the problem we face we can recognize the nuances related to the different types of gun violence. For example, legislative efforts aimed at banning assault weapons in response to incidents of school violence may do little to impact those communities suffering from bloodshed where the culprit is routinely a 9mm handgun. The logic that all violence involving guns should be addressed in the same manner fails to take into account the trigger pullers themselves.
Frederick Calhoun and Stephen Weston, in their book Threat Assessment and Management Strategies: Identifying Howlers and Hunters, posit that all acts of violence fall into one of two categories. They identify one category as impromptu violence, relating that this type of violence results from a “spontaneous, unplanned act that occurs in the emotional heat of the moment.” The second category is intended violence, and as they describe, “culminates a planned, premeditated act.” While both of these types share several of the same steps on the pathway to violence, it is the intended violence category that adds two additional steps; research and planning, and making preparations to commit the act of violence.
By no means am I suggesting that the media, and for that matter governmental programs scrap the lexicon they have used to bring attention to violence in favor of categorizing violence under just two labels: impromptu or intended violence. Instead, what I am in expressing is that we ensure that when we discuss violence we do so in a manner that focuses on bringing justice to the victims, resolution to their families, and peace to affected communities. To do so means we all need to do a better job of understanding the nuances involved with the perpetrators associated with the particular bright line incidents of violence we are discussing. By understanding their pathways to violence we can do a better job of preventing the next shooting.
This past July, Thomas Hogan and Gary Tuggle wrote an article entitled Stop Retaliatory Homicides Before they Start. They opened up the article with yet a new phrase to describe the surge in gun violence across many United States cities: “ping pong murders.” They use this phrase to explain the vicious cycle of retaliatory violence that is unfortunately taking place among many adjoining neighborhoods plagued by drug dealing, territorial disputes, and grudges. Now as we seek to address this nationwide problem we first need to know what it is and what is not.
For those community members caught in the crossfire of ping pong shooting murders, for them it is no different than being in the middle of a terrorist incident or mall shooting. The bullets are still flying and the probability of death or injury is the same. For law enforcement, it is critical that the incident be categorized quickly because it offers different options for the prosecution of the offenders, which in turn provides resources and guides the investigation.Nevertheless, for the rest of us looking to provide solutions to this overarching problem of gun violence it is critical we understand the pathway to violence that the perpetrators, and in the case of ping pong murders where today’s victim becomes tomorrow’s shooter, on so we can design and implement measures to off ramp them.
So what category do ping pong murderers fit within? Impromptu or intended violence? I turned to Pete Gagliardi, practitioner-expert-author, who has international experience in implementing gun violence prevention solutions. When I pose this question to him, he explained that much of the street level gun violence we see today across our cities is what he refers to as “nonsensical” disputes. In other words, the violent response to the perceived wrongdoing by the perpetrator does not match the actual harm of the perceived wrongdoing in the eyes of law abiding people that would consider the grievance so minor they would never get physical about it never mind shoot someone over it. Conversely, similar to crimes of passion, territorial fights over money or power, while they never justify violence, are easier to understand and can be viewed as a norm of the "underworld" - at least more “sensical” than shooting somebody because they looked at you funny or "dissed" you on a social media post. While it is easier for us to characterize these street level gun violence incidents as sensical or nonsensical we recognize that this is much too subjective since we view the incident through our own lense of bias.
So to answer the question, we turn to the interviews of illegal gun possessors over the years. Many say they carried their guns for protection and to ward off an attack, similar to an alarm company’s sign placed on your front lawn that is there to ward off would be burglars. So maybe there is a third type of violence in between impromptu and intended. For sake of argument, maybe we call it “implannedtu” where violent perpetrators who carried their guns for prevention and protection wound up pulling the trigger for something either sensical or nonsensical.
When the Allies initiated their intended violence plan against the Germans in Normandy it was easy for us to recognize that as war. Yet today’s bloodshed in communities across the United States come from multiple directions involving diverse perpetrators that carry with them a sundry of grievances. Like any problem, once we can better understand its components the faster and better we become at solving them. Gun violence plagues this nation at unprecedented levels. It impacts us in our homes, in our streets, in our schools, in our malls, in our workplaces, and in our places of worship. Maybe a first step toward understanding the problem is to develop a lexicon and taxonomy that we can reference, share, and discuss. It will better enable us to come to terms with the terms of gun violence.
Note: While I have no factual accounting to source a story I heard many years ago, I was fortunate enough to speak with historian Willian Schuber about the time period. He was able to provide historical significance to the role that Lieutenant General Sir Frederick E. Morgan played in the planning of D-Day.
Note: In January 2019, Ali Muhammad Brown plead guilty for killing Brendan Tevlin following his killing of three other men in Seattle as part of a jihad-inspired terrorist act in the state of Washington. Prosecuting the case as terrorism in New Jersey would have presented logistical challenges that were overshadowed by the strength of prosecuting the case via a state murder charges. See https://www.nj.com/essex/2018/03/ali_muhammad_brown_pleads_guilty_in_brendan_tevlin.html