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A nationwide hotline to stop mass shootings. Can it work?

The hotline launched on January 18th to try to prevent more mass shootings. Sean Cononie has committed to funding the program for a year.
Ammy Sanchez
The hotline launched on January 18th to try to prevent more mass shootings. Sean Cononie has committed to funding the program for a year.

Some skeptics applaud the hotline to prevent mass shootings but raise doubts about its effectiveness. The hotline creator says it's worth the effort to stop such violent acts.

A South Florida man who founded multiple homeless shelters statewide is turning his attention to a new project: prevent the next mass shooting.
Sean Cononie has created a national hotline — 605-NO-SHOOT (605-667-4668) — with hopes of steering people away from carrying out a mass shooting, and getting them mental health counseling. The phone lines opened in January.
“Over the years, I've been looking at these mass shootings and every time you see them, they're horrendous,” Cononie told WLRN. “I've always wondered what things can be done, what ways can be done to limit the impact?"

There were 42 mass killings and 217 deaths nationwide last year, making it one of the deadliest, according to a database maintained by The Associated Press and USA Today in partnership with Northeastern University. This year, 13 mass shootings — incidents in which four or more people die within a 24-hour period — have been recorded.

Callers to Cononie’s mass shooting prevention call center will hear, in part, a recorded message: “Please let us help you before you make the biggest mistake of your life.”

The hotline is 605-NO-SHOOT (605-667-4668). It is open to all 50 U.S. states and most of Canada. And it's modeled after suicide-prevention hotlines.
Ammy Sanchez
The hotline is 605-NO-SHOOT (605-667-4668). It is open to all 50 U.S. states and most of Canada. And it's modeled after suicide-prevention hotlines.

The phone lines, open to all 50 U.S. states and most of Canada, are modeled after suicide-prevention hotlines, according to Cononie. He said the phone lines will be staffed with seven people who work for his non-profit Coalition of Service and Charity Foundation, and are experienced in mental health counseling.

The hotline program has plenty of skeptics, including mental health experts and families of victims of the 2018 mass shooting in Parkland that left 17 dead, including 14 Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School students.

Broward School District board member Debbi Hixon, who lost her husband Chris, a coach and security monitor at MSD, in the shooting, raised doubts a potential mass shooter would call a hotline.

“I appreciate so much that someone's trying to do something different. Clearly whatever we're doing is not working,” Hixon said. “I just wonder how efficient that's going to be, someone that's getting ready to or maybe thinking about mass shootings — how likely are they to make a phone call to someone?”

In the Parkland shooting, the convicted shooter, who is now serving a life sentence in prison, reportedly posted a YouTube video under his own name, declaring “I'm going to be a professional school shooter.” It was among several signs that he was bent on violence months before he carried out the mass shooting, the Associated Press reported at the time.

Cononie said callers to the hotline, like those who contact a suicide hotline, are pleading for help.

“Why would someone call a suicide line? These people want help. They want to be stopped,” he said.

David Landry, a clinical and forensic psychologist in Broward and Palm Beach counties with more than a decade of experience working with juveniles and adults, said potential mass shooters and those thinking of suicide are starkly different.

“Those that engage in plans to commit mass murder typically have a longer time of planning it. And once engaged, it's difficult to stop once they made that decision,” Landry told WLRN.

“What I like about the idea is that it's attempting to shine a light on the problem, so while in its infancy, it would be interesting to collect some data around what might occur as a result of this kind of program and to kind of see what kind of reaction the public might have or if there's use of it at all,” Landry said.

Brian Gong, a board member of Professionals United for Parkland, an organization that offers therapy, training and workshops for the community and other therapists, said the hotline staff will need to be thoroughly trained and require their own therapy and counseling.

“It can cause a whole variety of problems: difficulty managing emotions, feeling numb, shut down, physical problems, loss of interest, mood swings, maladaptive coping strategies,” he said.

To date, the hotline has not received any calls from anyone expressing plans for a mass shooting or mass violence, said Cononie, who noted they have been contacted by parents about their children being bullied.

The center promotes the hotline through different social media avenues — like Facebook groups for anger management and bullying. YouTube videos are being uploaded to get the attention of anyone thinking of committing violence and who may be searching for previous mass shootings online.

Cononie said he’s investing $679,000 in the hotline project to keep it running for one year, and is hoping a government agency will oversee it in the future.

“ We're gonna try our very, very best. And if it costs us some money, it costs us some money. But it at least needs to be tried,” Cononie told WLRN.
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Ammy Sanchez