A few days ago, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the Active Shooter Alert Act in the wake of yet another mass shooting, this time during a Fourth of July parade in Highland Park near Chicago.
The bill is a step in the right direction. It will not solve gun violence in America and may take some time to implement properly. But it could save lives. That is why it garnered support from 43 Republicans and all but one Democrat.
Unfortunately, 168 Republicans — including every member of Colorado’s Republican contingent — voted against the bill. Most claimed the bill would be ineffective and confusing. Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Florida, never one to miss an opportunity for bombast, went as far as to characterize the bill as dangerous — “like yelling ‘fire’ in a movie theater, except the fire is in another movie theater across the street.”
Except that is exactly what is happening.
Here in Colorado, the coming week will mark the 10th anniversary of a madman opening fire in a crowded theater. He killed 12 people and injured 70 more. And likely inspired the killer in Highland Park.
Or maybe the one in Buffalo.
Or the one in Uvalde.
There is a fire burning through communities across America. It is leaping from city to city and destroying lives. In leaves behind scorched ruins in the form of friends and families mourning the victims of senseless violence. It engulfed the entire family and future of a 2-year-old toddler who lost both parents at the parade.
Of course Gaetz meant his critique in a literal sense; he worried about the stampede of people getting a text message and trampling over each other in a panic. Apparently he did not see the footage of the stampedes caused when shots rang out in Highland Park or later that day in Philadelphia after two police officers were shot.
He also probably does not understand what it is like to relay social media updates to his wife as she hides in a classroom with an armed assailant just outside her school. I can assure you, it is harrowing.
What Gaetz and the rest of the Republicans voting against this bill were truly afraid of, though, was a stampede of voters demanding action after being bombarded by active shooter alerts on a regular basis.
While we all see news reports every time one of these tragedies occurs, most are not directly impacted. That could change for many people if they suddenly received text messages at a shocking rate that they were in close proximity to life-threatening danger. It would certainly bring the risk home to many Americans.
A steady stream of those notices — to parallel the steady stream of gun deaths — could become a significant campaign issue. For example, the Highland Park shooting less than two weeks ago does not even make the first page of the Gun Violence Archive tracking mass shootings in our country. It has been pushed to the second page by 26 subsequent tragedies.
Can you imagine how people would react in these locales if they had been alerted by text of each one?
Given how rapid the loss of life is during a mass shooting, this bill likely will not help people in the line of fire. However, it may help people to avoid areas where an active shooter is not contained or in custody. In Highland Park, for example, the shooter was not apprehended for hours. It would surely be helpful for anyone in the area to receive notice that they should shelter in place until a subsequent notice alerted them to the suspect’s capture.
After Uvalde, I wrote that gun control activists needed to adopt a single-minded mentality to make a progression of incremental changes toward long-term goals. The Active Shooter Alert Act hits the target.
Mario Nicolais is an attorney and columnist who writes on law enforcement, the legal system, health care and public policy. Follow him on Twitter: @MarioNicolaiEsq