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Nicolais: Another day, another active shooter

Montrose standoff underscores the commonplace occurrence of active shooter situations in today's society

A few weeks ago, I woke up to a SWAT vehicle outside my hotel.

In Montrose for a trial, my morning began with a police escort to the parking lot due to an active shooter in the Holiday Inn Express lobby.

Gilbert Garcia attempted to check in during the early morning hours of Wednesday. When staff told him the hotel had no vacancies, he became irate, began screaming, and brandished a gun, police said. Staff called the police and Garcia locked himself in the lobby business center where he remained until the incident concluded. Over the course of several hours, police say he made threats to himself and officers, eventually taking aim at them before the police shot him. Garcia incurred non-fatal wounds and will now face a slew of criminal charges associated with those hours of madness.

Given a week of reflection, nothing strikes me more than the reaction people had to the incident. Primarily a mix of inquisitive voyeurism and perturbed inconvenience, Garcia’s standoff lived in a moment destined to fade into our collective memories. The prevalence of armed men suffering from obvious mental anguish while threatening random strangers has become a common storyline in our society. In my own family, its been barely two years since my wife had to hide in her classroom when a gunman killed a police officer blocks away.

In small town Montrose, Garcia’s actions attracted the attention of a large percentage of the community’s law enforcement and the city news corps for a day. But the rest of his story will almost certainly be lost to societal indifference as time passes. The court proceedings leading to his incarceration may garner a brief news blurb, but likely not much more. Maybe that long-term indifference is why these events have become so commonplace.

Obviously, and thankfully, this situation ended much better than similar events like those over the past year in Sutherland, Texas, or Las Vegas, Nevada.

Garcia’s actions did not appear planned like the deadliest mass murders and, based on what I heard at the time and subsequently read, Garcia only had a small-caliber handgun. He did not have an arsenal at his disposal. Still it seems that a common line runs through all these events, a silent rage and pain that grew within each man leading up to a final desperate act. This by no means excuses any of their actions or violent outbursts, but until we better understand the causes — and come up with responses that properly address them — we can only expect an increase in the incidence of angry armed men striking out in arbitrary fashion.

Of course, understanding only comes through attention and review. In most of our daily lives, that attention and review take a backseat to all the other demands on our time. For example, after the police took Garcia into custody, I headed off to court. We started a couple hours late, but the trial otherwise proceeded as usual. I don’t mean to suggest that if I chose to individually pay post-event attention I could prevent future events, but maybe a collective demand for more analysis would. Unfortunately, we all seem caught in the breaking news cycle that ends not long after a suspect is captured or killed.

The police response in Montrose suggests that at least law enforcement may have already begun this process, though. While the SWAT tank and 15 patrol cars were very evident to me as I exited the hotel from the side, each were purposely parked well outside the line of sight from the lobby.

In fact, the only emergency vehicle Garcia could have seen from his vantage was a sole ambulance parked in the entryway. Obviously local law enforcement had been trained in de-escalation tactics to avoid tragic outcomes.

In a perfect world, we would use a similar analysis to address the underlying motivations before another Gilbert Garcia picks up a gun in a fit of rage.

Mario Nicolais is an attorney and columnist who writes on healthcare, law enforcement, the legal system and public policy. Follow him on Twitter: @MarioNicolaiEsq