The slaughter of 19 children and two fourth-grade teachers at a Texas elementary school Tuesday has the nation asking questions it has wrestled with all too often in the wake of public rampages by shooters determined to kill people in their paths.

Michael Rocque, an associate professor of sociology at Bates College in Lewiston, who has been studying mass shootings for years, has some of the answers to some of the questions.

Michael Rocque, an associate professor of sociology at Bates College in Lewiston, has been studying mass shootings for years and says there are a couple policy changes that, if implemented, could lesson the number of mass shootings. Phyllis Graber Jensen/Bates College

Rocque said Wednesday that whenever there is a mass shooting, politicians quickly fall back on staid talking points that tap into partisan agendas.

“Nothing seems to change. Nothing seems to happen,” he said.

Rocque said, though, it doesn’t have to work out that way.

Experts who have studied the issue extensively, including Rocque, have found there are a couple of policy changes that would make a difference.


The first, he said, is that people who want to buy a gun ought to have to get a permit that would include background checks and a training requirement.

Research over 43 years found that states with a permit-to-purchase requirement had 60% fewer incidents of mass shootings, according to a report Rocque co-wrote for the Rockefeller Institute of Government, called Policy Solutions to Address Mass Shootings.

Second, he said, high-capacity magazines for semi-automatic firearms ought to be banned. States that have done so saw fewer casualties when incidents occurred. The report said prohibiting large-capacity magazines led to a 38% reduction in fatalities and a 77% reduction in injuries during mass shootings.

Neither of the recommendations “seem to be very controversial,” Rocque said, because they don’t limit the public’s right to own and possess guns. He called them “appropriate, specific policies” that would help.

Many of the other ideas frequently tossed around, including arming teachers, don’t work, research has found.

Rocque said he wishes political leaders would “focus on the data” instead of falling back on rhetoric that has gotten the country nowhere.


“Let’s think about an actual way forward,” he said. “Make gun-owning a responsibility with consequences.”

But gun rights proponents are wary of any restrictions.

Republican state Senate candidate Eric Brakey of Auburn said Wednesday on Twitter that universal background checks are “easily sidestepped by criminals,” impose “a tax on gun ownership” and “establish the infrastructure for a gun registry.” In short, Brakey said, they are “not a solution to anything.”

Rocque said that as a hunter, he had to take a course for two or three days to get a hunting license. That course, he said, taught, among other things, respect for guns and the damage they can do if used improperly.

He called it “very odd” that training is needed for a license to hunt animals but those who want to shoot people can simply walk into a gun store and purchase a weapon.

Brakey said a better way to stop attacks on schools is to increase their security.


“Pay staff and teachers extra if they will undergo emergency response training, plus be armed and ready to defend students” if necessity requires, Brakey said.

Arming teachers has proven a contentious idea.

In a 2015 Connecticut Law Review article, Danielle Weatherby investigated the proposal and found arming teachers rather than hiring security experts is “foolhardy and, at best, illogical.”

Weatherby urged policymakers not to “lose sight of the appropriate role and function of our school teachers. “

“Schools should be wary of muddying the role of our educators,” Weatherby said. “Instead, schools should allow teachers to focus on educating and leave the patrol work to the properly trained experts.”

“We can’t build fortresses and call them schools,” Rocque said.


The federal government has spent more than $1.2 billion in the past decade to make America’s schools more secure, with states, including Maine, allocating hundreds of millions of dollars more.

Rocque said the federal government’s National Institute of Justice provided a $499,000 grant for research into mass shootings that he and three other criminologists engaged in.

He said he hopes that political leaders will tap into what the research showed and “complete that circle.”

Otherwise, Rocque said, everyone will be saying the same things after the next shooting.

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