We need to get past our emotional, unresolvable gun arguments and look at alternate solutions like technology. I turned to it after my son’s murder and I know it can work.
Right after tragedy, the voices are so loud. Cries of grief and outrage unite in a demand for action. Politicians and others in power respond in kind, and for a moment, anything seems possible. Sadly, as we’ve seen all too quickly since the Parkland, Fla. shooting, it doesn’t take long before discussions that once inspired hope devolve into shouting matches and promising ideas are replaced by talking points. The search for specific solutions gives way to broad debates over deeply divisive issues and, as the days pass, survivors, loved ones and weary Americans are left wondering how nothing of significance seems likely to happen despite our unanimous agreement on the need to keep each other safe.
It’s been three weeks since the shooting, since we watched the pain and anguish of surviving students and parents play out in vivid relief, and not one child is safer. We’re asked to accept, once again, that we are no closer to the kinds of solutions we need than we were before the shooting — despite the increasing frequency of devastating mass shootings (seven of the 10 deadliest since 1949 happened in the last decade alone, three of them at schools) and the near guarantee that this will happen again, sooner rather than later.
As the father of a child taken by violence nearly 30 years ago, one who has made it my life’s work to spare families the kind of pain and frustrations I faced all those years ago, I refuse to accept that “nothing can be done.” I’ve never accepted that as an answer when it comes to keeping a kid safe.
When my son, Adam, was abducted and murdered in 1981, the weeks and months that followed would define me and the work I would do for the rest of my life. That includes co-founding the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children where, from the start, we resolved that the status quo would ever be good enough as long as families and law enforcement still needed education, resources or support to keep children safe. I’ve also refused to accept that “nothing can be done” to bring justice to our nation’s most dangerous criminals (or peace to their victims). Instead, through the power and reach of television, I chose to help enlist millions of Americans in the pursuit of fugitives as producer and host of America’s Most Wanted.
These endeavors worked by throwing out old, binary conceptions about what can be done to solve the “unsolvable.” By refusing to accept conventional wisdom, we’ve been able to move from “nothing can be done” toward “if not that, then what else?” And we can do it today. This can be our chance to drop out of the toxic and repetitive debates that surround us and pivot to promising alternatives that can end our inaction.
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One of those potential solutions is technology. For decades I have seen with my own eyes how next-generation innovations in the hands of both professionals and everyday citizens can enhance child safety efforts. I find it frustrating that despite the proven benefits of modern surveillance, image analytics, deep learning and artificial intelligence, we regularly ignore how technology is a force multiplier for both on-site security operations and law enforcement. It enhances the ability of any user to predict, prevent, mitigate and respond to violent threats. And yet questions of child welfare and public safety are rarely if ever framed this way.
That’s even though existing technologies currently help identify the faces of banned or flagged persons every day around the globe and are able to do so long before they can reach vulnerable areas or people. Current surveillance technologies can place existing personnel in every important location at once, and automatically draw attention to urgent concerns. There are proven capabilities that allow on and off-site school and law enforcement personnel to monitor areas of concern with exceptional detail. That can inform their decision-making and even allow them to lock and unlock doors and gates, all with the click of a mouse.
Such technology is generally cheaper than employing and training equivalent human resources over the same periods of time, and performs more consistently. And yet our town halls, newscasts, debates and op-eds continue to revolve around only the most emotional and unresolvable aspects of the gun rights vs. gun control argument. Meanwhile we repeatedly ignore other paths that are proven and available to us immediately.
Through my work on America’s Most Wanted and with families of 250,000 missing children, I’ve seen how integrating people and technology can solve previously unsolvable problems and make our world a safer place. My life has been dedicated to preventing the pain and suffering I see on the faces of the Parkland parents and survivors today. But change takes every one of us. Let us opt out, once and for all, of the old ways of defining our options so we may finally shift our focus from all that can’t be done to accomplishing all that can. That is how we save the next child’s life.
John Walsh is a longtime advocate for the protection of children. He is co-founder of the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children and currently hosts The Hunt with John Walsh on CNN. Follow him on Twitter: @john_walsh