Gun violence, bullying and mental health were among the topics of a panel discussion Wednesday night hosted by Attleboro state Rep. Paul Heroux at the United Way of Greater Attleboro. These topics were part of a general focus on school mass shootings
Heroux, who has a master's degree in criminology and worked for the Massachusetts Department of Correction, said the U.S. Secret Service tried to create a profile to identify school mass shooters, but was unable to do it.
"They're finding there really isn't a profile to look for," he said
Bullying was a possible motivation for the 1999 massacre at Columbine High School in Colorado, in which two teens killed 12 students and a teacher.
Chris Rappold, a karate instructor and bullying expert, said while there are what he calls "red flags," there are not specific, concrete indicators that could identify a potential shooter.
"There's not a specific diagnosis, but you know there's something wrong," he said. "It frightens me because if I just picked up the paper tomorrow, I couldn't live with the guilt because I knew there was something there."
Rappold said while bullying can never be fully stopped, as it continues into adulthood and is sometimes a result of bullying at home, the best that can be done is to minimize the problem before it develops into something serious.
"What we want to do and our role and responsibility as adults is to teach children exactly what to do when bullying occurs," he said. "We need to keep the problem smaller… [The Columbine shooting] started small and the person didn't know how to handle it. It snowballed and progressively got worse."
Heroux said gun violence is a tough issue to tackle from a legislative perspective because every motivation for particular gun crimes is different. For example, different factors lead to a gang shooting than a premeditated murder. He said measures such as assault weapon bans are top-down approaches and do not reflect the differences in motivation.
"In trying to reduce gun offenses, these top-down approaches are not necessarily going to be effective," Heroux said. "We need to look at what types of gun offenses we're trying to reduce."
Bristol County prosecutor Aaron Strojny said he and District Attorney Samuel Sutter have been working to reduce the number of gun violence incidents. Their goal is to make it a requirement that anyone with an unlicensed firearm be held in jail until the case could be heard in court for violent offenders or drug traffickers.
"It allows us to hold you in jail if you have a high capacity firearm, a history of violent crimes and serious drug charges," he said. "I've handled hundreds of cases ... I've seen a few guys come back and that's going to happen, but I think we've seen great success."
Strojny said while his evidence is anecdotal, he believes taking that action reduces the number of repeat offenders and strengthens the likelihood a witness will come forward if the defendant is not able to retaliate.
"With that comes knowing that these perpetrators are going to be taken off the street, we see a ripple effect," he said. "Witnesses seem to be willing to come forward when [the offenders] are off the street … When the community is involved we have a dialogue; conversations where people can feel safe. We've had some good success in Attleboro. We could be the best lawyers in the world but if there's no one to put on the witness stand, we have no case."
Strojny added that reducing gun violence involving children is a matter of keeping licensed weapons out of reach. He said all gun owners should lock up their firearms and put in a trigger lock to keep them inoperable.
"My father was a police officer and always had firearms in our house," he said. "[He] said, 'you don't touch this, you don't point it at anyone' ... It taught me to respect it, to respect what damage a firearm can do, and that starts at a young level."