A new national hotline to prevent potential mass shooters from carrying out acts of violence was launched by a group of Florida advocates Thursday.
The new hotline will be monitored 24/7 by staffers who have been trained to talk with potential mass shooters leading up to a planned shooting.
Sean Cononie, an advocate who runs multiple homeless centers in Florida, told The Hill his decision to open the Mass Shooting Prevention Call Center came because “everything else has really failed” to prevent mass shootings.
Cononie said his previous experience running homeless centers has prepared him and other staffers for dealing with a potential shooter who calls the hotline. He said they plan to follow up with every caller to ensure they received the help they needed.
“Most of these shooters plan their event two months ahead of time. So it is our goal to get them to call in during that two-month period,” Cononie said in an interview. “And we feel that if we’re able to speak to them and give them services, we may be able to change their thought process and to let them know that someone cares about them.”
He also noted that he expects the hotline to receive some “live hot calls,” and that the staff is prepared to stay on the phone with the person “as long as possible to get them to stand down.” He said that he spoke with former SWAT team commanders and other law enforcement to help develop a protocol for when potential mass shooters call in.
He said he plans to get out the word about the hotline by taking out advertisements in gun magazines and setting up the hotline phone number to show up in online searches for queries like “AK 47” or “mass shooting.”
Cononie said that the organization will also work with local law enforcement to pass along information about potential shooters.
The organizers said they have seven people who will staff the hotline 24 hours a day, seven days a week starting on Thursday.
Debbie Espinoza, a former special education teacher and now-volunteer in the Broward School District in Florida, said the staff has trained and prepared for all contingencies, including having two people in the headquarters at all times, having a backup generator and numerous cellphone and landlines to keep the hotline online.
She said the organizers have not been able “to find a downside” in launching the hotline, adding that she hopes the staff can walk people through a suicidal or mental health crisis if they are planning to commit violence. She said the staff has gone through hypothetical training sessions to prepare for the hotline.
“And so that’s what we’re looking for to be that friendly voice, middle of the night, middle of the day, whenever, you know, and these are usually triggered after the loss of a loved one, or the loss of a job,” Espinoza said in an interview.
“And we’re hoping that they’ll call and reach out. And it’s something that’s never been tried, that we’re aware of. And I believe, personally, that we have never attempted to stop, stop the crisis for that person,” she added.
According to the Gun Violence Archive, there were 656 mass shootings in 2023. President Biden and Democratic lawmakers have repeatedly called for stricter gun control measures in the wake of the shootings, but Republicans have largely blocked those efforts.