Late last Saturday night, a gunman walked into Club Q in Colorado Springs, Colorado, and opened fire on the patrons. Five people were killed and 18 injured before an ex-Army veteran took down the shooter, striking them with their own gun. The shooter was then subdued by club patrons.

The shooting at Club Q was the latest in an ever-growing list of mass shootings until an employee of a Walmart in Virginia opened fire on Tuesday, killing six including himself.

Mass shootings have become an unfortunate fact of life in the United States and with each new event come the inevitable questions about what caused it and whether anything could have been done to stop it before it began. 

Blame falls on guns, mental healthcare, and family and friends. The Club Q shooting, in particular, has sparked questions about red flag laws and increasing online extremism.

Dr. Harold Schwartz, a psychiatrist at Hartford Healthcare’s Institute of Living who has a background in forensic psychology, has spent much of the last decade trying to understand the motivations behind mass shootings. Following the deadly attack at Sandy Hook in 2012, he was part of the governor’s commission and helped to write the report they later published. 

For him, the chief issue is the country’s gun laws, which allow people with a history of violence to obtain weapons like the ones used in last weekend’s shooting. 

Aldrich had previously been arrested after threatening their mother with a bomb but the charges were reportedly dropped. Critics have wondered why Colorado’s red flag laws, which allow friends and family to challenge a person’s right to own a weapon if they present a threat to themselves or others, did not come into play in this case.

As questions of both guns and mental health are usually non-starters in this debate, Dr. Schwartz says there are ways to identify a potentially dangerous person before they commit a crime like those we’ve seen over the last few days.

“Leakage is where the shooter lets somebody know or more than one person know that this is going to happen or puts out online or in social media, stuff that is, you know, threatening,” says Dr. Schwartz. He says that if these threats were taken seriously by those who see them – in the case of school shootings those are usually other students – you might be able to get the person help or at least make it more difficult to carry out their threats.

“If you look at some of the most salient of the recent mass school shootings — that goes back to Columbine, but at Parkland and that Uvalde — these people had been online or on social media, basically, signaling what was to come,” he explains. “And responding to that appropriately and bringing this information to — if you’re a school child to a responsible teacher or parent, if you’re an adult and you’re seeing this online to police or to the authorities — would be, I think, a way to significantly reduce some of the shootings that we see.”

He also points to early interventions within schools that could help.

“Emphasize social-emotional learning approaches that kind of teach people to encourage their empathy and encourage their social connectedness,” says Dr. Schwartz. “You know, maybe turn people who otherwise would have been bullied, who otherwise would have felt still more alone and more marginalized, more in the direction of being citizens, being a part of our larger society.”

In court filings on Tuesday, defense attorneys for the suspected shooter identified 22-year-old Anderson Lee Aldrich as nonbinary, using they/them pronouns, but did not expand further.

Club Q is one of only a few gay and lesbian venues in Colorado Springs. Motivations for the crime remain unclear but the fact that it happened in a known queer space has many convinced it was a targeted attack on the LGBTQ+ community, even if the shooter was a member of that community.

Aldrich has been unofficially charged with five counts of murder as well as hate crime charges, though formal charges have not been filed as of publication.

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An Emmy and AP award-winning journalist, Tricia has spent more than a decade working in digital and broadcast media. She has covered everything from government corruption to science and space to entertainment...

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