There is potential for federal laws to make guns more difficult to access, but while that process plays out, cities are using technology to mitigate mass shootings.
There are roughly 100 cities in the United States that utilize ShotSpotter, a technology that uses sensors to detect audio of gunshots and notifies police in under 60 seconds, according to the ShotSpotter website. In Dayton, police were on duty about 30 seconds away from the shooter. In some situations a matter of seconds or minutes is a difference in lives saved.
In 2017, police credited ShotSpotter for a fast capture of a shooter in Fresno, CA.
After every mass shooting, ShotSpotter gets a flood of calls, from city officials looking for solutions to prevent tragedy, Sam Klepper, the company's senior vice president of marketing and strategy, told Smart Cities Dive.
But some experts say gunshot detection technology isn't meant for violence of this sort.
"I'm somewhat skeptical. It's important technology," Frank Straub, director of the Center for Mass Violence Response Studies at the National Police Foundation told Smart Cities Dive. "But even in really quick responses, significant damage occurs."
ShotSpotter was developed in the 1990s as a means to alert police to gunshots that may not otherwise be reported. In Louisville, KY nearly 80% of ShotSpotter alerts were not accompanied by a 911 call, according to James Cirillo of the LYPD. Oftentimes, ShotSpotter can alert police to gun violence before someone on the scene can. In neighborhoods with frequent gun violence, officers may not get a call at all.
"It's not a deterrent to mass shootings. It's just one tool we can use."
Spokesperson, Louisville Metro Police Department
Straub said ShotSpotter also helps police get to the scene quickly enough to gather evidence, like gun shell casings, which helps during an investigation.
"It's proven to be very successful when it comes to violent crime investigation and resolution," Straub said. However, one Forbes study showed that for as many as 70% of calls, police weren't able to find gunshot evidence.
The technology can also help mitigate post-incident bloodshed, according to a ShotSpotter 2017 research study. Victims in the study saved an average of four minutes in transit time when ShotSpotter alerted police. "That four minutes to an operating room surgeon with a bleeding patient, that can make all the difference," Klepper said.
But while the technology provides multiple benefits after a shooting, there are several reasons why experts say in mass shooting situations, it's unlikely to make a difference.
In Louisville, KY, ShotSpotter is set up in areas where police say shootings occur regularly, Jessie Halladay, a spokesperson for the Louisville Metro Police Department told Smart Cities Dive. Data shows that the system has only alerted to gunshots throughout the West End and parts of Old Louisville.
Other cities, like Washington DC, follow a similar strategy, and have installed sensors in high-crime locations.
"It's not a deterrent to mass shootings," Halladay said. "It's just one tool we can use."
Halladay said Louisville spends about $400,000 per year to maintain the technology, part of the reason why the city almost cut funding earlier this year. "It's a nice-to-have, but it isn't a must-have," Police Chief Steve Conrad told WLKY at the time.
Funding is a huge deterrent for cities looking to implement ShotSpotter, for regular gun violence or mass shooting situations. "There is not a line item in a police budget for gunshot detection technology," Klepper said. "The number one barrier is funding."
Some cities have found lower cost alternatives. Canton, OH, plans to switch to Wi-Fiber from ShotSpotter to avoid a 5% price increase. The city will now only have a recurring cost of $60,000 per year as compared to $150,000, with double the area covered.
Straub agrees, also pointing out that when shootings happen indoors, or outside of high crime areas, ShotSpotter is not helpful: In El Paso, the shooter walked into a Walmart, while in Dayton, the shooter was headed for a popular bar.
ShotSpotter sensors outside may not be able to detect sound in crowded, noisy areas. Dayton decided to purchase ShotSpotter just a couple weeks before nine people were killed in the downtown area. The city expects to install sensors in 2020.
Timing also plays a role — automatic rifles can kill people in seconds, making Straub skeptical about how effective the technology is when a mass shooting could be over in less than a few minutes.
Other tech start-ups are looking into ways to make police response to mass shootings faster, through artificial intelligence (AI).
Athena Security, founded in 2018, uses AI through internet-connected cameras to detect visuals of a gun, which immediately signals police. Founders created the system as a response to mass shootings in Las Vegas and Parkland, FL.
"Seconds are everything... We could detect when [the Dayton shooter] pulled the gun out. If we had Athena, we could have prevented that shooting," Athena CEO Lisa Falzone told Smart Cities Dive.
While for security reasons, Falzone can't reveal specifically where Athena operates, she said cities are looking into the technology. It's currently being installed in mosques worldwide, as a response to the mass shooting at the Al-Noor mosque in Christchurch, New Zealand. Archbishop Wood High School in Bucks County, PA installed Athena last year as an extra security measure.
"There is not a line item in a police budget for gunshot detection technology. The number one barrier is funding."
Senior vice president of marketing and strategy, ShotSpotter
"We are constantly looking at new technology," Archbishop Wood High School president Gary Zimmaro told Smart Cities Dive. "I can't say that one thing makes us feel safe. It's just another layer that's there to help."
Halladay pointed out that Louisville permits open carry, and a system like this wouldn't work, but the city is always looking for ways to advance gunshot detection technology. In 2018, Louisville announced it would work with ShotSpotter to pilot a drone integration to track shooters. However, because of Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) regulations, the pilot hasn't rolled out.
Straub emphasized that while gunshot or gun detection technology isn't a perfect solution to mass shootings, the testing and research is beneficial. "It's very important to explore, within the context of the U.S. Constitution," said Straub.