Opinion

Zero tolerance for plane crashes, but not mass shootings?

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The United States has decided that it has zero tolerance for airplane crashes. We need to take the same approach to mass shootings.

There is an elaborate, sophisticated system in place to investigate, down to the smallest detail, significant passenger airplane crashes and then to develop policies that eliminate or mitigate the risk.

The goal is simple: We make changes as necessary to keep airplanes from falling out of the sky.

Last week, 17 people — mostly high school kids — were gunned down in Parkland, Florida, by a young man with an AR-15, a semi-automatic rifle that is able to inflict incredible, death-dealing damage to scores of people in a short amount of time.

The suspect, Nikolas Cruz, was quickly apprehended, and a criminal investigation is continuing. The purpose of the investigation is to build a case against the suspect that will convict him in a court of law.

The investigation, while thorough, is not designed to uncover systematic flaws that could be fixed with policy changes. In fact, the notion of politicizing a police investigation — Trump and Russia notwithstanding — is something most people wouldn’t tolerate.

The National Transportation Safety Board is charged with investigating significant airplane crashes. It investigates about 2,000 aviation incidents a year and about 500 accidents in other modes of transportation.

Making safety recommendations is the top priority of the NTSB’s mandate. The goal is to address deficiencies as quickly as possible, sometimes even before an investigation is complete to ensure that the particular causes of the crash aren’t repeated. And investigators do whatever it takes to get answers.

The investigations can be time consuming and difficult.

“The United States has a habit of spending whatever it takes to finish an air crash investigation. When Trans World Airlines Flight 800 crashed into the Atlantic in 1996, we had thousands of government agents, a little army of people taking wreckage off of the ocean floor,” Todd Curtis, a former Boeing air safety engineer, told CNN when talking about crash investigations.

When the cause of the crash was determined, the NTSB issued urgent recommendations.

Hospitals are beginning to apply the same approach to infections. In the past, infections were considered an unfortunate — but acceptable — cost of providing medical care. Despite tragic and costly results, they were viewed as inevitable.

That’s changing. Some hospitals are no longer treating infections as a “rare tragedy.” Instead, each infection is investigated, procedures are improved and health care providers are held accountable. The way treatment is provided changes. The goal is simple: No infections.

We need the same commitment, the same determination for mass shootings: No mass shootings are acceptable.

They are not the price we pay “for living in a free country,” and they are not inevitable.

In 2016, I ran the campaign in Maine to strengthen our background check system and close huge loopholes that allow criminals to get guns. Better background checks would make us all safer.

The NRA and committed gun rights advocates prevailed, convincing Maine voters that this simple, effective reform wasn’t worth enacting.

So I’m not naive enough to believe that recommendations from an expert investigation would automatically lead to changes in the way we confront gun violence.

But I do believe that such an approach would force us into a fact-based conversation about gun violence and what can be done to prevent it — on a case-by-case basis.

We might well uncover improvements to school security, mental health screenings and gun ownership laws that would make us all safer. We might find that product liability reform, as suggested by BDN columnist Lance Dutson, would be the most efficient solution.

I don’t know what a mass shooting “Go Team” might find and recommend. But we should all want to hear it, no matter how uncomfortable the truth might be. Maybe it would help us get out of our corners.

We cannot shrug our shoulders and simply wait for the memory of mass carnage to pass. We can’t keep forgetting the names of the victims.

If we can unravel the cause of a plane crash from the bottom of the ocean or aim for an end to infections in hospitals, we can figure out how to stop this type of wholesale murder.

Enough is enough. No more. Zero tolerance.

David Farmer is a public affairs, political and media consultant in Portland, where he lives with his wife and two children. He was senior adviser to Democrat Mike Michaud’s 2014 campaign for governor.

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