Norwalk's lawmakers got an education Tuesday night in what the main speaker, David Bernstein, called "black swan events."
A black swan event, a "low-frequency, high-impact" occurrence such as the Newtown mass shooting, is impossible to predict, Bernstein said.
Zero-tolerance policies haven't worked, he said, as they only deter people from coming forward with information.
Bernstein, a forensic psychologist, threat assessment expert, and founder of Norwalk-based Forensic Consultants, referred to one "pretty scary" case study over and over during a Gun Safety Legislation Forum hosted by Common Councilwoman Anna Duleep, D-At Large, at Norwalk City Hall, a response to December's massacre in Newtown.
His case study was done about one month before the Newtown tragedy and began with a photograph a boy took of himself with a gun to his head, accompanied by the words, "Happy Suicide." The boy felt bullied, as do 75 percent of mass murderers who choose a school they are connected to as a target, Bernstein said.
"The kid knew more about guns than I did; I mean, it was amazing what this kid knew about weapons," Bernstein said.
While outsiders might look at a case study -- such as the story of the Columbine shooting -- and think the shooters weren't really being bullied, that is misleading, Bernstein said.
"Does it matter what you think, or does it matter what the kid who is being victimized thinks?" he said. "If you think you are being victimized, you have a lower threshold. Some kids take things very, very personally. They don't have assertiveness skills."
Officials and about 30 members of the public listened for more than an hour before Bernstein asked for questions, prompting state Sen. Toni Boucher, R-Wilton, co-chairman of a group examining school safety, to look for specifics on what might be mandated from the state.
Bernstein was then peppered by questions from other members of the panel. But after another hour, an angry member of the audience complained that he and others had come for the "one-stop shopping" aspect of the event -- a chance to tell the lawmakers what they thought.
"Nobody here is in favor of gun violence or in favor of illegal guns," Bill Welsh said. "No one in NRA is favor of gun violence or illegal guns."
Bernstein responded: "We may disagree, but to approach this from a preventive point of view, from a layered security point of view is fabulous," he said. "I believe that to the extent that legislation is necessary, that anything can be addressed, it seems to me that the preventive issues, the mental health issues, are the absolute highest priority, and layered security in the schools themselves."
Bernstein talked about the need to gather information to identify potential problems as they develop, citing the Virginia Tech massacre, in which 32 people were killed and 17 others wounded by a single gunman. In the aftermath, it was discovered that there were several warning signs that the student who committed the atrocity was severely troubled.
There needs to be one person -- who is appointed because of their qualifications -- to sort through information from different sources, and a threat assessment team, he said. Many schools say it's too expensive to get information anonymously, he said, but a Web-based phone number with voicemail box is less than $50 a year.
In addition to concentrating on the human factor, Bernstein pointed to some practical measures that could be taken to prevent or minimize school shootings.
Sandy Hook Elementary School could have benefited from one low-cost improvement, he said.
"It takes a long rifle a lot of time to shoot through a solid-core door," he said, adding that the doors are available at Home Depot.
Steel frames on the doors and ballistic glass would make every classroom a safe room, and the kids wouldn't even notice, he said.
"There are ways of making our schools very secure, preparing for the outside shooters and dealing with the inside threats before they get to an actionable place," he said. "You've just got to be clever about it. A little training goes a long way."
School resource officers are important, as they become part of the school's community.
"Every dollar you spend in prevention could magnify into hundreds of thousands in intervention," Bernstein said.
State Rep. Larry Cafero, R-Norwalk, talked of his experience as a school expulsion officer, examining scores of cases, from people who brought a weapon to school through ignorance to those who were seeking revenge.
"If we were to have risk assessment for each person, we'd be bankrupt," he said.
State Sen. Bob Duff, D-Norwalk, said one SRO at a school like Norwalk High School wouldn't make a "panacea for safety," as there are four floors and different areas. He said lawmakers are trying "not to have knee-jerk reactions," and want to craft thoughtful legislation.
"I'm reluctant to do things that will just make people feel better, rather than make them safer," Duff said.
One pro-gun member of the crowd said he was "thoroughly engaged" in the discussion and "deeply encouraged."
"It was refreshing to see you focus on a lot of issues," Michael Donnelly said. "Like any problem, there's a lot of layers to it. ... I appreciate your attempt to not knee-jerk and react to something."
Donnelly said he works in construction and is a parent, and would volunteer to put up heavier doors in schools.
"There's a lot of proactive things you can do," he said.
Duleep asked him if he would be receptive to a tax on ammunition if the money went to school safety.
"I don't see a direct result in how that's going to play out, Donnelly said. "It doesn't seem to make much sense. ... My gut feeling is it's not going to do much."