Unconscionably, in the 46 weeks this year there have been 44 school shootings with the most recent, this past week in Santa Clarita, CA. In many of the schools it is the students themselves that open fire on their fellow students. Unfortunately, these crimes tend to be carefully planned out and premeditated by its perpetrator. Even the most savvy and conscientious guard cannot evade these atrocities from being carried out. They can happen inside of school or outside on school grounds.
What We Can Do: Prevention & Tertiary Interventions
Gun Rights Versus Gun Control
I am truly hoping that there will come a day when we can avoid our society’s cyclical battle over gun rights versus gun control. It devolves into the typical argument over “guns kill people” versus “2nd Amendment Rights” and “guns for protection.” As typically, we’re headed into a battle of wills, being stymied, followed by inaction, and ostensibly the same position that we currently find ourselves in.
The ever-growing body of research consistently reaches the same conclusion. The only variable that can explain the high rate of mass shootings in America is its astronomical number of guns. The other reality is that the United States has some of the weakest controls over who may buy a gun and what sorts of guns may be owned.
Dan Hodges, a British journalist, wrote in a post on Twitter two years ago, referring to the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School, “Once America decided killing children was bearable, it was over.” He was referring to the end of the US gun control debate.
I won’t bother listing all the potential ways that gun control laws can be enacted. The default can be the more lethal the weapon, the more onerous the requirements to obtain a license (e.g., a pilot’s licenses is more difficult to get than an auto licenses). This can include training, a certification, a background check, and a periodic re-licensing procedure. Also, there can be certain weapons that only a select few can access (e.g., machine guns and explosives are granted to certain professionals in certain professions). It’s unconscionable that I went online last night and could have purchased an AR15. No joke!
Integrating Social Emotional Learning and Mindfulness Curriculum in Schools
This could be integrated into the curriculum from Kindergarten thru 12th grade. Most schools currently neglect to teach constructive ways to cope and deal with anger, depression, anxiety, disappointment, frustration, and other significant emotional states and emotions.
There isn’t guidance in teaching about emotional regulation, frustration tolerance, identifying core values, problem solving skills, etc. These constructs serve as the foundation to allow for regulating difficult emotions, fortifying a moral compass, and inevitably facilitating sound decision making.
Teaching about emotional states and emotions unequivocally matters. According to research, they are known to contribute to: (1) attention, memory, and learning, (2) decision making, (3) the quality of relationships, (4) physical and mental health, and (5) performance and creativity. There is a plethora of studies that support the need to integrate social emotional learning (SEL) and mindfulness in schools and at home because of the long-standing positive benefits.
To read more about the various types of SEL curriculum that can be integrated in schools and how parents can also foster these skills see my HeySigmund Blog, Why I’m Unfortunately Not Surprised By More Incidences Of School Violence and my Huffington Post Blog, Parenting With Emotional Intelligence: An Aspect Of Parenting That’s Too Often Overlooked.
Profiling at Risk Kids (Individuals)
Perpetrators of mass school shootings, often exhibit risk factors that are generally tied to criminality: a history of abuse or ineffective parenting, a tendency to set fires or hurt animals, a sadistic streak, and self-centeredness and a lack of compassion. Despite the concern and common myth, most people with mental illness are not violent. The most common mental illness associated with mass public shootings perpetrated by adults was paranoid schizophrenia, a type of schizophrenia in which the person has delusions of being plotted against or persecuted. For kids perpetrating school shootings, the data differs.
Research has shown that school shootings and other acts of violence are rarely impulsive acts. They are typically well thought out and planned in advance. For many offenders, they observe violent films, violent video games, participate in repetitive viewing of violent media, and are obsessed with guns. The most common goal is for the shooting is retribution. 61 percent are motivated by a desire for revenge, and 75 percent felt bullied, persecuted, or threatened by others.
It’s imperative to be aware of the “Werther Effect” which is defined as a duplication, copycat, of another suicidal act. Because these events are well-publicized, it can trigger an increase in similar acts for days or weeks after an incident.
In almost all instances, following the shootings, there was clear signs through social media and the perpetrators history and behavior to indicate their risk factors and propensity toward anger and violence. Shooters tend to be white and the middle to high socioeconomic status schools and settings are most often the target.
At schools, administration, teachers, school psychologists and social workers, and other staff could be provided a psycho-education as to the risk factors and additionally, protocol for reporting, and awareness about pertinent resources and supports for children and families.
Low or No Cost & Accessible Trauma Based Mental Health Treatment
As a collective community, a goal should also be to advocate for legislation to provide low or no cost and accessible trauma-based mental health services such as Eye Movement Desensitization Reprocessing (EMDR R-TEP) or Trauma Based Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) to the kids and families negatively impacted by these tragedies and additionally to the bystanders whom typically and unfortunately are overlooked.
Trauma treatment invariably minimizes the risk of developing Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and Acute Stress Disorder and the negative effects brought on by the trauma. Survivors and bystanders may experience a wide range of feelings, including anger, depression, guilt, and fear. In addition, there may be physical symptoms, difficulties with memory and concentration, nightmares or “flashbacks”, and disturbances in interpersonal relationships.
Immediate and effective counseling minimizes negative psychological and social effects and helps the survivor develop effective coping strategies that make it more possible to pursue school and social relationships during the period of recovery.
The Need for A Comprehensive Approach
Fundamental change will only happen with comprehensive and radical reform. We need to consider preventative and tertiary measures.
Right now, when I say goodbye to my children, I hug them a bit tighter. I notice that I carry fear like I never have before — as if I’m sending my children off to the wolves. They, like all children, have a fundamental right to be protected in every way possible.
Enough debating and squabbling, let’s start taking direct action to provide safety and security for our children.
Blog as posted on Psych Central.