The FBI agent in charge of a 60-county area, including Kerr, addressed a Kerrville Rotary Club meeting this week and said the agency is struggling to deal with a surge of mass shootings nationwide — one every two weeks on average.
Both local district judges, prosecutors, a handful of law enforcement officers and several other local elected officials were in attendance at Wednesday’s event at the Ray and Joan Kroc Corps Community Center, where the guest speaker was Chris Combs, FBI special agent in charge of the San Antonio Division. The division covers 65,000 square miles, 625 miles along the U.S.-Mexico border. Combs, who oversees a division that includes 500 federal employees, was an incident commander on scene at last year’s Sutherland Springs shooting, the Odessa shooting this year and the Austin serial bombings last year, in addition to the 9/11 terrorist attack on the Pentagon, among others.
Combs took many questions from audience members. In answer to a question about violence in Mexico, Combs said 99% of Americans kidnapped in that country are involved in cartel-related activity, and he said the cartels are very careful not to commit violence in the U.S. He said border cities such as McAllen and Laredo are “incredibly safe” because the cartels don’t want a “massive” response from the U.S. government, such as “shutting down the border.”
“Because if you are a bad guy and you are heating it up, the cartel will come and get you,” Combs said. “They don’t want the heat, because it is bad for business.”
Combs spent a lot of time talking about the mass shooting phenomenon. He told the attendees that mass shootings constitute “the No. 1 threat the FBI is chasing right now.” He said there are a lot of mass shootings “that don’t make the news,” and added that many are being prevented.
“You have no idea as a whole how much law enforcement are stopping (mass shootings),” Combs said.
Combs called mass shooting numbers “terrifying” and said he’s had to retask a squad of agents who used to investigate white- and black-supremacist groups.
“I had to shut down all of them and put them on active shooter threats,” Combs said.
One audience member asked a question about the efficacy of concealed carry firearms as a way to reduce killings by mass shooters.
“Are we all going to wind up carrying guns again because of these shooters?” the audience member asked.
Combs playfully sidestepped that specific question, saying he didn’t want to lose his job. He went on to say that it’s too easy for people to illegally acquire firearms and said that “an administrative failure” led to the Sutherland Springs shooter illegally acquiring a firearm.
Combs spoke of the availability of firearms capable of doing a particularly large amount of damage.
“When you see what an AR-15 does to a child’s head — not to be graphic, but that changes your (view),” Combs said.
Combs offered an analogy to illustrate his point.
“I love race cars,” Combs said. “I can’t drive 250 miles per hour in town. But I still love race cars. I drive 75, maybe 82. There’s a middle ground on everything, but unfortunately, it’s difficult to talk about before somebody is calling you a communist or saying I want to take their guns away.”
Combs spoke of the importance of people sharing information with law enforcement agencies.
“If you see something, say something,” Combs said, adding that all the mass shootings authorities have prevented have been due to tips from the public.
In response to a question at the end of the event, about the profile of the average mass shooter, Combs said most are male, and he indicated most are young and white.
“I can’t give you a profile,” Combs said. “I can tell you (it will be) a man, but then it goes either way.”
Combs ended his talk with a quip that elicited laughter: “But I can know this ... you know a white guy writing a manifesto, that is a bad sign.”
Earlier in his talk, Combs said “the vast majority” of mass shooters have no criminal history. He indicated most mass shooters are found to have mental health problems. The problems are mostly found after the shootings, not diagnosed beforehand, Combs indicated. Only 2 percent of mass shootings are crimes motivated by hatred of ethnicity, religion, race or other protected trait, he said.
Combs praised the Rotary Club for trying to increase awareness of human trafficking. He said this sort of crime “is just getting worse” due to ease of producing, disseminating and acquiring child pornography on the internet. Agents tasked to fight human trafficking are very busy, he indicated.
“They’re so busy that, literally, we can’t get to all the cases that we have,” Combs said.
As in the case of preventing mass shootings, law enforcement relies tremendously on help from the public to stop human trafficking, Combs indicated.
“We can only do so much,” Combs said. “When we have citizens who help, that makes a difference.”
Combs also said it’s important for police officers who are first responders to mass shootings to confront the shooters. He said it’s been proven that the average shooter will either surrender or kill himself upon being confronted by law enforcement. However, there’s a 33 percent likelihood an officer responding will be shot, he said.
“For you military people, hitting the beach and losing 33 percent (is bad) — and now you’re asking cops (to do that)” Combs said. However, he added that “You still have the odds with you that you will stop the killing.”