“Let’s work the problem, people.”

Those are the memorable words spoken by Apollo 13 flight director Gene Kranz as he beseeched his team of engineers and mathematicians to figure out how to bring the crippled spacecraft back safely to earth.

Work the problem. It’s what engineers and scientists do day in and day out to overcome what seems like insurmountable obstacles. By working the problem, they’ve achieved amazing feats in everything from space flight to automobile safety to life-saving vaccines to promising treatments for cancer.

America has a problem with mass shootings – a perverse societal sickness that generally manifests in young males wielding high-capacity firearms.

Predictably, after the unfathomable tragedy in Uvalde, some people reflexively called for banning assault-style weapons such as the AR-15. Others reflexively blamed “evil” or mental illness for the heinous acts of Salvador Rolando Ramos. “Guns don’t kill people, people kill people” is the common refrain.

Predictably, political leaders recite the same banal rhetoric they believe their supporters want to hear, and then they do nothing.

Granted, engineers and scientists often work to solve problems in an environment far different from our society, which is messy, loud, angry and hyper polarized. Still, serious problem-solvers know that real competence requires doing things thoughtfully and mindfully, looking at all the factors and variables and not letting hunches, intuition or personal biases choke out empirical evidence.

Our state and national leaders must approach this social problem “thoughtfully and mindfully.” Serious politicians must weigh facts and evidence produced by experts. (Much work on the psychological profiles of mass shooters has already been done). Leaders must examine the gamut of social influences on young men who commit these atrocities – their family dynamics and school environments, behavioral models, impacts of social media, the extent of their exposure to violent images. They must investigate any and all motivating factors.

They must also weigh external factors such as school security, the presence of trained security personnel (resource officers or the educational staff), and other potential barriers to a killer.

In addition to fully investigating the psychological profile of these killers, an examination into the means by which they carry out mass killings must be part of the equation. Refusing to even consider the role assault-style firearms play in these killings would be derelict.

Texas and America need smart, serious legislators to address this problem. We need adults to act, and voters should demand it.

If action does in fact come, we understand it likely will be incremental, especially in the realm of firearm laws.

But even small steps are welcome if they somehow alter this horrible trend.

In order to work the problem, you have to start somewhere.

 — Herald-Banner

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