Random Thoughts – Randocity!

How to prevent school shootings

Posted in parenting, personal security, security by commorancy on February 26, 2018

On the heels of the Parkland, Florida shooting, this question has emerged yet again. Can we prevent school shootings? Let’s explore.

Mass Shootings

In recent years, mass shootings seemingly have been more and more frequent. Or, at least so it seems. It’s not just school shootings, it also includes shootings like Las Vegas and the Pulse Club shooting in Orlando. I’d even include the mass killing by vehicle where people mow down crowds of pedestrians. While these last three examples aren’t school shootings, they do point to a systemic problem that appears to extend beyond the school into our everyday lives.

We don’t know why these mentally disturbed folks decide to pick up a weapon and point it at a crowd or drive a car through a crowd. However, I’d start by looking at commonalities. These might include medications they were taking or things they were doing in their daily lives. It might even be mental health problems.

Parkland Shooting

My heart goes out to those who have had loved ones taken away in Parkland.  However, Parkland is the most recent example of a mass school shooting allegedly committed by a former student who had apparently been expelled. What triggers these people? Though, the bigger concern is less why this student was triggered and more how this student found access to weapons. And, herein lies the problem and with it, the solution.

Weapon Access

The bigger question is, how did a 19 year old get access to the weapons he allegedly used? In many states, it’s perfectly legal for an 18 year old to purchase and possess a rifle, but not legal to purchase or possess a handgun at that age. In the case of the alleged shooter, he apparently legally bought the AR 15 rifle just weeks before the shooting. I guess the somewhat odd thinking here is that a rifle is more obvious than a handgun. This is backwards thinking. The rifle, while being obvious when someone is holding one, is obviously a more dangerous weapon… especially if it’s an AK-47 style semi-automatic rifle. This compared to a handgun which isn’t always semi-automatic, though some are.

Here’s where we have a problem. The point to an semi-automatic rifle is to point and spray. That is, to discharge as many rounds as fast as possible. These weapons are designed to dole out mass amounts of bullets and damage. This compared to a handgun which isn’t typically designed for this purpose. Here’s the first problem. Why are semi-automatic weapons allowed to be sold at all, let alone to someone under 25? These are weapons that should, if at all, only be sold to people who can pass a proper gun test and full background checks. It should also be limited to someone aged 25 or older.

If an 18 year old wants to gain access to semi-automatic rifles, join the military. For the shooting in Parkland, the alleged shooter was legally an adult at the time of the shooting, so I’ll come back to the adult age group issue shortly.

Children with Guns

In the case of younger school mass shooters, how did they get access to the weapons at all? These children can’t own weapons. This is where parental guidance fails. Many of these shooters obtained their weapons directly from their parent’s weapon stash or from a friend’s weapon stash. Of course, they might have also obtained weapons through illegal means.

In the case of parents owning weapons where the child used it in a mass shooting, the parents should be held legally accountable, at the very least as an accessory. If you own weapons and do not properly secure them from your child, then you need to be held legally accountable for how that weapon is used, particularly if it is by your child. As a parent, you need to share in your child’s legal culpability and burdens, even if the child is shot and killed after the mass shooting. As a parent of a child mass shooter, you can no longer claim to be a victim in this. You are now fully responsible for your child’s actions while using your legally purchased weapon(s). If that means the child performed a mass school shooting, as a parent, you should expect a maximum sentence including jail time.

This is the first way to stop these mass school shootings. If parents legally become an accessory to whatever is committed by the child with that parent’s weapon, then parents will then have to be much more careful about where they leave their guns. This means making completely sure that your weapons are entirely secured from your child, preferably away from your home. This means making sure your child has no way to circumvent your gun storage system and take possession of them. However, if your child does take possession and uses your weapon in a mass shooting, expect to see the inside of a courtroom and see the inside of a jail.

Making parents take responsibility for their child’s actions is the first way to stop school age child shootings. Parents of a shooter need to stop making themselves into the victim and take legal responsibility for their child’s actions.

Adult Aged Shooter

In the case of Parkland, the alleged shooter was 19 and legally purchased and owned the weapons he purchased. That’s partly because Florida’s gun laws are fairly lax. This is where if Florida’s gun purchasing laws had been more strict on this matter, this 19 year old (still mentally a child) wouldn’t have been able to buy an AR 15 weapon. Unfortunately, there is the argument that at 18, the age were everyone is considered a legal adult, you should be able to buy and own a weapon. I agree with that sentiment to a degree. It’s not that you can’t own a weapon, it’s that the states need to mandate stricter requirements before you can walk out of the shop with one. No one needs to walk into and out of a gun shop with gun-in-hand in the same day. It’s not that kind of an item. Here are some points that could have at least slowed down (or possibly thwarted) this alleged shooter:

  1. Require a permit. A permit to own a weapon means you need to file for that permit and wait until the permit arrives before a gun. This takes time and a little bit of money. It also means your name is on file with the state and authorities that you own a weapon and which weapons you own (because the gun dealer has to make a record with your permit number).
  2. Require a waiting period. In addition to the time it takes to file for and receive a permit, force every gun shop to make you wait at least 30 days before taking possession of the weapon. Not only does it force the buyer to think about their purchase, it forces the buyer to wait 30 days before that gun becomes yours. It also gives the gun shop owner 30 days to do their own research before handing over the weapon. I consider this one due diligence. No one needs a weapon overnight. It also means the gun shop might not get a pass for not doing their due diligence. Everyone involved in the sale of a gun has a responsibility to ensure they are selling that weapon to a person of sound mind.
  3. Require a mental health evaluation. This one is on the list only because it can help evaluate sound mind, but it’s also controversial. This means that as a gun buyer, you need to be evaluated by a medical professional prior to taking possession.  Or, at least, take possession of your first weapon. The problem with this is, judging someone else’s mental health is a bit of a challenge. Habitual lying sociopaths are well capable of making their lies seem quite truthful… even to a mental health professional.  This means that unless the mental health professional is able to diagnose a lying sociopath, the mental health professional could be on the hook for what that person does with the weapon after they signed off on that person’s mental health. Not sure how many mental health folks would want to take on that responsibility.
  4. Background check. A person who is looking at purchasing a weapon should go through a thorough background check. This should include social media sites and reviewing any behaviors that might seem out of the ordinary. If the person is under 25,  the person’s most recent school records and conduct must be evaluated. If a school has recently expelled that person, this should be grounds for background check failure. If a parent or sibling has been involved in gun violence, failure.

These basic checks would at least stop obtaining weapons through legal means. However, it won’t stop people from obtaining weapons illegally. It also won’t stop person to person weapon purchases. For example, in Florida, one person can legally purchase a gun from another person without notifying anyone. This is the hardest problem to solve. Is there a way to solve this? Not easily. Because person to person weapon transactions are the hardest to track and the hardest to know about, it’s almost impossible to stop these.

Failure to Investigate

In the case of the alleged Parkland shooter, this former student apparently had disturbing content on various social sites including a now infamous comment left on YouTube. Content describing the want to use weapons in the way they were used. Apparently, some folks from the school found these sites and brought it to the attention of the school authorities, the local authorities and even the FBI. Yet, none of these leads were apparently followed up on.

This is a hard section to write. If the folks who are tasked to investigate troubled teens for possible issues like this, why wasn’t this information followed up? Why wasn’t he found early? Why wasn’t he taken in and detained? Why did none of this happen? There’s a term for it…

Security Theater

What exactly is “Security Theater“. According to Wikipedia:

Security theater is the practice of investing in countermeasures intended to provide the feeling of improved security while doing little or nothing to achieve it.

What this means is that authorities set up mailboxes to catch complaints with hollow promises to follow up. In fact, these sites actually aren’t monitored and the mailboxes go unchecked. These sites are set up strictly to placate, to provide security theater.

Instead of implementing the facade of security theater, we need to actually monitor, take action and follow up on these legitimate leads. If the FBI had actually followed up on (or at least had notified the local authorities), the Parkland shooting might not have taken place. It’s one of those hindsight is 20/20 kind of deals. It’s easy to look back and see all of the mistakes. However, if at least one of those notified authorities had followed up, perhaps Parkland wouldn’t have happened?

Overall

By enforcing more strict gun purchasing laws (especially to those under 25), by eliminating the practice of security theater and by actually following up on all possible threats, it’s possible we could have prevented the Parkland shooting. Heck, car insurance has always been higher for those under 25 for a reason. The insurance companies realize how reckless that age group can be. Why not apply this same logic to gun purchasing and ownership?

These ideas won’t necessarily stop all mass shootings and wouldn’t necessarily have prevented a shooting like Las Vegas, but if these ideas can reduce the frequency of them, then that’s a win in my book.

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Rant Time: Google Wallet Verification

Posted in best practices, botch, business, california, personal security by commorancy on March 22, 2014

So, I know how much everyone love my rants. Well, here’s another one. This falls under personal security and internet security common sense. Today, let’s explore the safety of Google Wallet and it’s so-called verification system.

What is Google Wallet?

Basically, it’s another type of payment system like Paypal or Amazon checkout. Effectively, it’s a way to pay for things or send money on the Internet using Google. That’s about as simple as it gets. Who uses it? I certainly don’t nor will I ever if Google doesn’t change its ways.

Verification of Identity

Like most other payment systems, they want to know who you are. Or, at least, that the person who is wanting to use the payment system owns the card or bank accounts added into their system. However, each one of these payment systems usually does verification in similar ways. For example, Paypal verifies you by requiring you to add a checking account (i.e., routing and account info) and then adding a small amount of money to your checking account. Later, you enter those two tiny amounts of money into their verification panel and you’re all set. That’s pretty much it for Paypal. This is similar to other financial institutions like E-Trade.

Google’s Verification = Stupid

And I thought Paypal’s verification was stupid. Leave it to Google to diverge and make it even more difficult. In the verification form, Google requires you to enter your social security number, your birth date, your home address, your phone number and various other information that could easily lead to identity theft. Then they require that you submit it. Information, I might incidentally add, that is not required for you to use an established credit card or bank account for payment. After all, banks are already required to identify you before opening an account. This is the whole reason why Paypal’s verification system is enough. Paypal merely hangs onto the coattails of the bank that has already previously verified your identity when you opened the account. I digress.

When their entry form doesn’t work, they require you to attach a PDF document of a government issued identification card. Not only is that stupidly manual, who the hell know what Google is going to do with that PDF file once you send it to them? Why would you want to do this anyway? Seriously, you’re not opening a bank account with Google. You’re not getting anything out of it by sending this to Google. And, you’re opening yourself up to huge personal risk by leaving PDF documents of your identification cards floating around on the Internet for hackers to find. Seriously, what is Google thinking here?

For me, that’s a big red flag and a BIG FAT NO to Google. I have no intention of providing any physical paperwork to a private corporation. If you can’t figure out proper method to identify the user electronically, that’s not my problem.

Legal Compliance?

I know that Google claims that this is all in the name of Federal compliance, but I’m quite sure the compliance laws don’t require you to verify a user using any specific implementation techniques. Clearly, Paypal is able to comply with these laws without requiring a PDF version of physical government issued identification. The reality is that Google also does not need a copy of this. That they claim that this is required to fulfill legal obligations is smoke and mirrors.

No, it’s quite clear, Google’s verification system is broken and completely unnecessary. They can certainly comply with all identity verification laws without resorting to asking for a copy of your identification be submitted to them in PDF or any other format.

Merchant Requirements

In fact, while credit card issuers like Visa and Mastercard don’t forbid asking for identification when using a credit card, the merchant must still accept the card for payment as long as it’s properly signed without seeing an ID. Because Google wallet requires actually seeing your identification before using some services with your credit card, this violates card issuer rules regarding the requirement for seeing identification before purchases. On the other hand, unlike a retailer who has the physical card in hand, Google cannot see your card and whether it’s signed. But, the spirit of this rule remains. Using a method of charging a small charge to the card and asking you to check the statement, then supply that dollar amount should be enough to verify that you own that card and that you have access to statements… just like Paypal and E-Trade.

Because a lot of statements have now become e-statements online, the small charge method doesn’t necessarily verify your physical address. Though, if they need to verify your physical address, they can simply send a postcard with a code. Then, have you enter that code into a verification panel once you receive it. In fact, this is really the only method that will verify your physical address is valid.

Google Wallet’s Usefulness?

With all of that said, Google has failed to make any traction towards becoming a defacto wallet. In fact, there are so few merchants that actually use Google Wallet, it’s probably safer not to verify with Google. Being as unused as it is around the Internet and seeing as Paypal is the primary method of paying for things today, it’s too much of a personal risk to submit PDFs of your passport or drivers license to a random corporation. You have no idea where that PDF might end up. Though, it will likely end up on Google drive because Google likely requires its employees to eat Google’s own dogfood (i.e., uses its own services).

And since the risk of using Google drive is as yet unknown with all of the Facebook-like features that Google has added (and continues to add), it wouldn’t surprise me to find Google internal documents accidentally shared through a Google employee’s personal account via Google+. This would obviously be bad for Google, but it wouldn’t surprise me. That’s why you don’t upload PDF files to corporations like Google. In fact, I wouldn’t share PDF files of that type on any network drive unless it’s encrypted and passworded. Better, don’t put it there in the first place.

Companies requiring copy of a personal ID

Personally, I won’t do this type of ‘give me a copy’ verification for any company unless I’m opening a bank account, credit card or need to provide it for some specific financial transaction. Even then, I will only transact that business in person and allow the person long enough time to see the documents to get what they need from it. And no, they are not allowed to photocopy it unless there’s some specific requirement.

I especially won’t do this with companies as big as Google or Microsoft when no transaction is involved. As companies grow larger and larger, employees get more and more careless in document handling. Asking for photocopies of identification cards, social security cards, credit card faces or any other issued card is not cool and I have no intention of ever providing that to a company for any identification purposes unless I’m actually performing a transaction. I won’t do it for ‘just in case’ services that I may never use. Doing so stupidly leaves a financial time bomb out there ready to be exploited.

The most they need is the number off of the face. If a company cannot make do with what’s printed on the face of the card (by being typed in), they get nothing. Just like giving your check routing information to a company such as Paypal is like writing a blank check, giving copies of physical documents to corporations is tantamount to identity theft. I simply don’t trust corporations with access to copies of my physical documents.

Though, were Google to set up a storefront and I could walk in and hand my card to someone to visually inspect and then maybe have them swipe it (although, I’d prefer not), I’d be somewhat okay with that. But, knowing a PDF file is floating around on the internet somewhere with a copy of my physical card, that’s not in any way cool. I will never do that for any corporation sight unseen no matter who they are. Since there’s no way to transact business with Google in person, there’s no way I’ll ever verify my identity for Google Wallet.

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