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How can we prevent mass killings like Aurora?

Tuesday - 7/24/2012, 3:30am  ET

AP National Writer

AURORA, Colo. (AP) - On the morning of the latest mass shooting, in a place that has become synonymous with tragedy, Tom Mauser's phone started ringing at 5 a.m. When he turned on the news his first thought was "Oh God," followed by an immediate: "Not again."

He's seen this too often since that April morning in 1999, when his own son Daniel was slain along with 12 others at Columbine High School. In the years that have followed, every time the unthinkable happens yet again _ at a Virginia college, a Texas military base, an Arizona strip mall, a Colorado movie theater _ Mauser mourns anew.

But he also feels something else, the frustration we all feel when we see the same images we've seen before: Hysterical victims fleeing in terror. Anguished mourners crying out for lost loved ones. Stunned citizens praying together at candlelight vigils.

"There was a time when I felt a certain guilt," said Mauser, a state transportation program manager who became an outspoken activist against such violence after his 15-year-old son was killed. "I'd ask, `Why can't I do more about this? Why haven't I dedicated myself more to it?' But I'll be damned if I'm going to put it all on my shoulders.

"This," he said, "is all of our problem."

But where to begin solving it? In a nation that likes its quick-fixes and finger-pointing, do we blame the mental health industry, poor parenting, a 24-7 news cycle that brings instant "fame" to mass murderers and sometimes spawns copycats, a culture that glamorizes _ and has become desensitized to _ violence in its many myriad forms? (Consider the nonstop Internet "zombie" chatter after a Florida man this year had his face nearly chewed off in a bizarre attack.)

And placing blame aside, are there steps we can take to prevent yet another rampage?

Mauser's primary focus has been to advocate for more gun control. The year after Columbine, he helped lead an initiative approved by Colorado voters to require background checks for all firearms buyers at state gun shows.

Still, that didn't prevent accused Aurora shooter James Holmes from acquiring two pistols, a shotgun, an AR-15 rifle and thousands of bullets. Someone intent on killing will find a means. And so Mauser and those who have spent years studying mass murder know that any so-called solutions must go far beyond gun control.

Generally, they say the solution may have less to do with government intervention than individual action. People need to be more aware of troubled individuals who may act violently; they should talk with them, and if they remain alarmed they must reach out for help. And when they do, there must be someone to listen and act effectively.

"The question we have to ask constantly is: What more can we be doing? We may not be able to stop all of them, but I think we could stop more than we do," said Peter Langman, a psychologist who has spent years studying the Columbine massacre and similar incidents at other schools and universities.

In many cases, Langman and others have found, the murderers either left clues as to what might be coming or behaved in a manner that left those around them feeling uneasy but, perhaps, unsure of what to do.

Langman points out that not long before Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris opened fire at Columbine, Klebold's school compositions _ including descriptions of a killing _ so disturbed a teacher that they were brought to the attention of his parents. But Klebold explained them away as mere fiction, and the shootings happened a short time later.

"Many school shooters have told people exactly what they were going to do, but nobody believed them," said Langman. "Nobody took them seriously."

Jared Loughner, accused in the January 2011 shooting in Tucson, Ariz., that killed six people and wounded former U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and 12 others, had several run-ins with police while studying at Pima Community College in Tucson.

Some 51 pages of campus police reports described a series of classroom outbursts and confrontations that prompted worried instructors to summon campus officers. He was suspended and later withdrew from school. But even now some still ask whether the college could or should have done more by taking any concerns elsewhere _ to mental health professionals, perhaps.

Similar questions have been raised in the case of Holmes, who had recently withdrawn from a competitive graduate program in neuroscience at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus. Officials there are looking into whether Holmes used his position in the program to collect hazardous materials, but it remained unclear whether Holmes' professors and others in his 35-student Ph.D. program noticed anything unusual about his behavior.

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