BOONE — The United States has not gone a full year without a mass shooting since 2002, according to Statista; 2021 already having seen shootings in Atlanta and Boulder, Co.
The Boulder shooting took place on March 22 at a supermarket and took the lives of 10 people, including a police officer, according to the Associated Press. Five days earlier, a gunmen killed eight people around Atlanta — six of which were of Asian decent, according to the AP.
Whenever a mass shooting occurs, gun laws and preparedness are brought back into the public conversation, and law enforcement agencies around the nation are reminded to be on alert for similar activity.
“It’s sad and it’s so senseless, some of the stuff I’ve seen,” Watauga County Sheriff Len Hagaman said. “There’s no rhyme and reason to it, you can’t put your finger on why people do what they do.”
Due to these kinds of events, law enforcement agencies in Watauga conduct an active shooter drill at least once per year. While it is a requirement and is mainly predicated on the idea of a shooter in a school, Hagaman said they are an invaluable exercise to have.
Watauga has a dedicated response unit for events such as shootings, which meets once every month and prepares for any situation. Hagaman said the unit, which is made up of officers from various agencies and is selected by the officers’ peers, has prepared for events such as a shooter on an AppalCART bus or even a lost child.
Appalachian State University Police Chief Andy Stephenson said it gives him confidence that should a shooting occur on the university’s campus, the ASU Police Department would not have to go in alone.
“You see these events on the news and no one can handle them on their own,” Stephenson said. “It’s nice to know that, if anything did happen, we wouldn’t have to handle it alone, which is a much better option.”
Boone Police Chief Andy Le Beau said a key to avoiding future shootings will be people having broader access to mental health resources. Part of his belief of the best way to stop such tragedies is making sure they do not happen in the first place.
At the same time, Le Beau said law enforcement is working with local businesses, encouraging them to have a plan in the event of a shooting such as the one in Boulder, which took place at a supermarket.
“In the event that something like that happens, it can take two minutes to come up with a plan,” Le Beau said. “A lot can happen in two minutes, people can die. But, if you have a plan, then that can be avoided.”
Le Beau noted that if someone with a concealed carry permit is at the scene, stopping a shooter before anything escalates, can be the quickest way to end the situation.
Hagaman noted that Watauga has seen an increase in concealed and open carry permits, particularly since the 2020 election. Hagaman said that 10 percent of Watauga residents have a concealed carry permit, which he has no issues with, but he added that there has been an increase in open carry permits which can frighten some people.
The Watauga County Sheriff’s Office can be reached at (828) 264-3761, the Boone Police Department can be reached at (828) 268-6900 and the ASU Police Department can be reached at (828) 262-8000.