How to Stop School Shootings

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Photo by Rodrigo Sa Barreto via Flickr

There have been 18 school shootings in the United States in 2018* – in a year that is only 46 days old. 

Yesterday, a 19-year-old male — and yes: to date, the school shooters have all been male — walked into his former high school, Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, and killed 17 people. 14 more are in the hospital.

THIS IS NOT OK.

THIS IS NOT OK.

THIS IS NOT OK.

But this is bigger than gun control. This is bigger than mental health and access to care. The fact that our children are shooting up schools, and being murdered in schools is a symptom that something is terribly, terribly wrong.

Kids who are happy, content, safe and well-cared for do not shoot up schools. The fact that so many are resorting to horrific violence tells me we are failing our kids in so many ways. Our social net is frayed to tatters, and children are falling through — and taking others with them.

The true shame of the matter is that it’s not as if we don’t know which qualities and practices are associated with raising well-adjusted humans. There are mounds of literature on the subject. And it’s not even as if we don’t know how to help children who experience less-than-ideal circumstances. There are reams of literature on that too. We know that trauma — poverty, racism, the loss of a parent, exposure to violence — affects children, that such exposure to trauma literally changes the ways their brains function. The research even tells us that such trauma can be biologically passed down through the generations via genetic changes. We know that.

And we know that care and compassion can make a difference. Trauma-informed care, an approach to care that considers and responds to the effects of trauma in a human’s life, can build physical, psychological and emotional safety, and empower trauma victims. Studies show real and measurable differences when healthcare providers, educators, law enforcement officers and others use a trauma-informed approach – and yet, such care is still not widespread.

Worse yet, we have continued to turn our back on the bellringers who have been trying to alert us to the seriousness of the situation. As elementary school principal Jocelyn Angeleaux Mills stated so eloquently on Facebook today:

What has changed since Columbine, Sandy Hook, etc.? Do we have more social workers, child psychologists, and guidance counselors in schools?

Have we not been listening when teachers and principals have been jumping up and down….screaming for help? We have been telling society for decades that children and the unbelievable trauma show up in our schools!!!

Meanwhile, we cut education funding and paint teachers as the bad guys. Parents are pulled, by economic necessity, are working ever-longer hours, and socially, we do nothing to make it easier for parents to spend time with their children — not in the first days of a child’s life and definitely not in the tricky teenage years. We scream about “mental health” in the moments after a school shooting, but do little to tackle the stigma still associated with mental health, and even less to improve access to care. (Mental health professionals are in stunningly short supply. Even if one has access to health insurance and transportation, it can be exceedingly difficult to get an appointment with a qualified provider. In 2016, Chicago patients who were identified by their physician are requiring mental health services often had to wait a year or more before they saw a specialist.)

If we want to stop school shootings, we have to do better by our kids. We have to collectively agree to prioritize the physical and emotional health of our children. We need to listen to and learn from those who work closely with children, and give them the support they need. We need to love the children close to us, and reach out, whenever we can, to help struggling children and families. Some common sense gun laws might help too. They won’t solve the problem — this problem is far bigger than access to guns — but they might slow the carnage, at least while we work to shift our priorities and heal our children.

It took us a long, long time to get to a place and time in which school shootings are commonplace. It will take a long time (and a lot of work) to reverse the situation, to become a place in which all children are valued and nourished. But the cost of not doing so — of not investing in our children and families — is more dead bodies. More innocent children, gunned down in the streets and in their schools.

That’s not a price I’m willing to pay.

We can each take action, today; many small steps, over time, can lead to big change. Here are some ideas to get you started:

  1. Love and listen to your children. Embrace their friends, especially the ones who are hard to love.
  2. Consider donating to Moms Demand Action, a grassroots organization dedicated to decreasing gun violence. I interviewed founder Shannon Watts for  BuildingBoys five years ago.
  3. Support your local educators and schools. Ask what they need; most schools have a list of open volunteer positions and unfulfilled requests. Something as simple as reading to a class or working with a struggling student can make a difference.
  4. Learn about trauma-informed care. Support efforts to integrate trauma-informed care in our schools and communities.
  5. KEEP TALKING! We cannot forget how horrified we are at this moment. We cannot let a few days of peace lull us into complacency again. Something is not right, and we need to fix it.

*The number of school shootings is somewhat up for debate. The number 18 comes from Everytown for Gun Safety, which defines a “school shooting” as “any time a firearm discharges a live round inside a school building or on a school campus or grounds,” and counts, for instance, adult suicides that occur on school grounds when school is not in session. According to this Washington Post article, “Just five of Everytown’s 18 school shootings listed for 2018 happened during school hours and resulted in any physical injury. Three others appeared to be intentional shootings but did not hurt anyone. Two more involved guns — one carried by a school police officer and the other by a licensed peace officer who ran a college club — that were unintentionally fired and, again, led to no injuries. At least seven of Everytown’s 18 shootings took place outside normal school hours.”

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