Nearly 40 mass shootings had taken place in 2023 when Virginia Hoft saw an article about the latest rash of gun deaths. “This is the America of 2023,” the headline read.
“And I’m like, ‘Oh my gosh, are we just going to lean into that?’” Hoft, who directs Mental Health Connection of Tarrant County, remembers thinking.
In three weeks, that number increased by nearly 75%. The Michigan State University mass shooting on Feb. 13 brought the year’s total to 68 in less than that number of days, according to the Gun Violence Archive, an independent research nonprofit.
What is a mass shooting?
Different groups answer this question differently. For example, the FBI considers a mass shooting to be any event in which at least four people are shot and killed. The Gun Violence Archive defines mass shooting as a single event in which four or more people, excluding the shooter, are injured or killed.
Hoft is more than ready to address what’s become a normal slot in the news cycle. She and her colleagues at Mental Health Connection, a network of organizations that work in mental health, are inviting county leaders and community members to discuss how to interrupt mass violence in a half-day conference March 1.
“Now’s the time for the conversation,” Hoft said, “and all of us are going to have to be part of the solution.”
The event includes breakfast, small group discussion and keynote speeches by Jillian Peterson and James Densley, researchers and authors of The Violence Project, a 2021 book that explores how to prevent mass shootings. Anyone is welcome, and tickets cost $25.
If you go:
Note: Pre-registration is required — tickets won’t be sold at the door.
What: Interrupting the Pathways to Mass Violence conference, a collaboration between Mental Health Connection, United Way of Tarrant County and One Safe Place.
When: 8 a.m. – noon, Wednesday, March 1
Where: Nick and Lou Martin University Center
Texas Wesleyan University
3165 E. Rosedale St.
Fort Worth, TX 76105
Tickets cost $25. Register here by Feb. 22.
Mental Health Connection collaborated with United Way of Tarrant County and One Safe Place, a crime prevention agency, to create the conference.
Hoft hopes the day’s discussions will lead to more partnerships across Tarrant County. Preventing mass violence isn’t the responsibility of one group, she said.
“In my fantasy, at the end of this magical four hours, people from different disciplines go, ‘Wow, there are more ways to intervene with these troubled souls than to lock down schools and give more people shooting lessons,’” she said. “And that, all the way from law enforcement, to mental health providers, to chambers, to schools, to first responders, we find where opportunities lie for us to intervene.”
In The Violence Project, the authors focus on “the pathway” to a mass shooting, rather than the profile of a mass shooter, she said.
The book highlights four common experiences of a person who becomes a mass shooter: childhood trauma; an identifiable crisis point, like the loss of a job or the death of a loved one; suicidal thoughts; and a grievance, or feeling that they’ve been mistreated.
Opportunities to surround that person with support, rather than condemnation, happen along the path, Hoft said. Attendees will have the opportunity to brainstorm those opportunities in small group discussions between speakers.
“We are in this place now, which is so understandable, where we just see (mass shooters) as monsters,” Hoft said. “But the thing about mass shooters is that they are your child’s classmate, or they’re my neighbor, or they’re your husband’s co-worker. These are not people that are in someone else’s neighborhood.
Alexis Allison is the health reporter at the Fort Worth Report. Her position is supported by a grant from Texas Health Resources. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter. At the Fort Worth Report, news decisions are made independently of our board members and financial supporters. Read more about our editorial independence policy here.