Bipartisan bill would create push alert for active shooter incidents

The idea is based on the Amber Alert for abducted and endangered children.

February 05, 2022, 8:14 AM

A new bill proposed this week would develop a federal alert system for active shooter situations, which have increased by over 1200% between 2000 and 2020.

The FBI defines an active shooter as "an individual actively engaged in killing or attempting to kill people in a populated area." Though they account for a small percentage of gun deaths, 333 active shooter incidents in the United States resulted in 2,851 deaths between 2000 and 2019, according to an FBI report released last year.

On Tuesday alone, there were active shooter incidents at Bridgewater College in Virginia, where two officers were killed, and at South Education Center in Minnesota, where one student was killed and another was left in critical condition.

A bill proposed in the House the same day would help sound the alarm when such incidents occur so that people nearby an active shooter incident would be sent up-to-date information on their phones.

Reps. David Cicilline, D-R.I., and Fred Upton, R-Mich., proposed the bill, which aims to improve law enforcement officers' ability to quickly disseminate information during active shooter situations. The AMBER Alert system, which this bill is modeled after, is a public alert triggered when a child is endangered or abducted.

The mechanics of the alert system are not spelled out in the legislation, but a coordinator from the Department of Justice would be responsible for determining best practices.

"It's really about protecting law enforcement, protecting communities from gun violence, making sure that people have accurate and instantaneous information when there's an active shooting to save lives," Cicilline told ABC News.

PHOTO: David Cicilline speaks during a meeting with members of the bipartisan delegation of the US Congress in Kyiv, capital of Ukraine.
David Cicilline speaks during a meeting with members of the bipartisan delegation of the US Congress in Kyiv, capital of Ukraine.
Volodymyr Tarasov/Future Publishing via Getty Images

Similar alert systems like the one proposed in the bill have been established in Michigan, Rhode Island and Texas, but the new legislation would provide a more uniform, national approach.

While several attempts at federal gun control legislation have been stalled in the Senate due to Republican opposition in recent years, this bill -- which doesn't directly impact gun ownership -- was brought to the House floor by the bipartisan duo optimistic about garnering similar support in the Senate.

"I think it's fair to say that when we pass this bill out of the House, there will be significant bipartisan support. We have been in discussions with both Democrats and Republicans," Cicilline said.

Upton was one of eight House Republicans who voted in favor of the Bipartisan Background Checks Act of 2021 that would require a background check for all firearm purchases. Despite passing in the House on March 11, 2021, the bill has yet to receive a vote in the Senate, where it's unlikely to garner the 60 votes needed to overcome a filibuster.

PHOTO: A law enforcement officer takes cover in the area of Bridgewater College in Bridgewater, Va., Feb. 1, 2022, while responding to an active shooter alert.
A law enforcement officer takes cover in the area of Bridgewater College in Bridgewater, Va., Feb. 1, 2022, while responding to an active shooter alert.
Michael Souders via Reuters

The Active Shooter Alert Act focuses on reducing harm during a shooting event instead of aiming to prevent the active shooter from acquiring a gun in the first place.

"Look, to the extent that anyone thinks that this bill alone is going to do all that we need to do to reduce gun violence in this country, of course, that's not true," Cicilline said.

In fact, mass shootings, which can include active shooter situations, represented a mere 1% of all of the 191,897 gun deaths that occurred from 2015 to 2019, according to the Gun Violence Archive, a nonprofit that identifies mass shootings as cases in which four or more people are shot and tracks them through public data, news reports and other sources. They also accounted for only 2.8% of the 74,565 gun homicides during that same five-year period.

The bill is on pace to be up for a vote in the House during Police Week, which runs from May 15 through May 21, according to the bill's sponsors.

ABC News' Ivan Pereira contributed to this report.

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