AUSTIN (Nexstar) – The number of mass shootings reached a new high this year in the United States. Two of the most deadly crimes happened in Texas – the shootings in El Paso and Midland-Odessa.
State leaders ordered lawmakers to look for ways to prevent future mass shootings. Lawmakers are looking for potential help from tech and social media companies.
In early December, a Senate committee heard testimony from representatives of social media and tech companies. A key question is how to share information that could identify a potential criminal, without infringing on individual privacy.
The promise and limits of fusion centers
Following the mass shootings in El Paso and Midland-Odessa, Governor Greg Abbott issued eight executive orders to address the growing concern ahead of the next legislative session.
One order called on the Department of Public Safety to increase staff at fusion centers. The order aims to improve the process of collecting reports of suspicious activity and responding to those reports. Another goal is to improve how the state monitors social media and other online forums for potential threats.
Texas has eight fusion centers fielding reports of suspicious activity, but not every area of the state has one. Officials say information about the El Paso shooting suspect failed to make it into the network.
An analysis of state data shows nearly 13-thousand suspicious activity reports poured into the state’s network in the past five years. State leaders say they depend on people sharing information.
“Every person has got to be aware of their surroundings, and be able and be willing to report suspicious activity when they see it,” explained Steven McCraw, the director of the Texas Department of Public Safety.
The shooting at the Starburst
Since 1980, Texas has experienced at least 32 mass shootings. One of the first documented mass shootings in that stretch happened on February 3, 1980 at the Starburst nightclub in El Paso.
Five people died when a gunman opened fire inside the club. Three others were wounded. One bullet hit Phil Sell. He lived to tell the story.
“There were people screaming. It was chaos,” Sell remembered. He was sitting with his back to the door when he heard a few pops then turned around.
“It felt like somebody punched me. I reached up and, you know, my hand was full of blood,” Sell recalled. “I can remember seeing bodies laying right next to me.”
One of Sell’s friends took a pool cue and hit the shooter. Others at the bar subdued him.
“You have no idea how you’re going to react in a situation like that,” Sell said. “The only thing you can do is prepare.”
Following mass shootings in 2019, Governor Abbott issued executive orders for state agencies and lawmakers. One order called for expanding training for civilian response to active shooters.
The Advanced Law Enforcement Rapid Response Training program, known as ALERRT, is providing some of that training.
ALERRT has gathered data in 316 mass attacks nationwide since 2000, including 40 where citizens subdued their attackers. The information is helping ALERRT create realistic training scenarios.
“We’re not just going out and saying hypothetically something could happen,” explained Hunter Martindale with ALERRT. “Instead, we look at what has unfolded over this 19-year period and show this is how civilians can interdict and help.”