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Between 2009 and 2019, more than 170 schools in America experienced a shooting (Walker et al., 2019). The devastating loss of human life is a trauma that extends to millions of other children in the aftermath of the tragedy, as they witness the violence through retellings in the media. As the ongoing fear that this perpetuates has deep-rooted effects on schools and communities, gun violence represents an ongoing public health crisis (ElSherief et al., 2021; Ranney, 2021).

Past Violence Prevention Efforts & Evaluations

Initiatives to prevent violence and improve security in schools often focus on either methods of increased surveillance (i.e. metal detectors, transparent backpacks, and additional police officers) or of response protocols (i.e. lockdown drills, restraint de-escalation trainings, or allowing teachers to have firearms in classrooms) (see Borum, 2010). While research does not yet support the claim that surveillance and response protocols are effective strategies, at least one study has suggested that anticipating violence through lockdown drills increases student anxiety, stress, and depression (ElSherief et al., 2021) each of which are mental health factors which have been associated with school shooters (Raitanen, Sandberg & Oksanen, 2019), meaning that these protocols may perpetuate the very violence they purport to mitigate. By contrast, research suggests that proactive school safety measures such as threat assessment programs, mental health supports, and positive behavioral interventions are effective and reduce unintended harmful effects on mental health (ElSherief et al., 2021; Flannery et al., 2021).

Violence Prevention through Supportive School Enviornments

Perpetrators of school shootings typically communicate intentions to harm a target population to at least one person prior to the tragedy; additionally, these individuals have been found to have a high prevalence of documented mental illness, especially relating to suicidal ideation (Peterson et al., 2021; Vossekuil et al., 2002; Dowdell et al., 2022). These insights represent opportunities for violence prevention in which school and community leaders can intervene and prevent violence, as well as create supportive environments for students’ physical and mental health if given proper training and resources.

Violence Prevention Within and Beyond the School

While the media often portrays gun violence in schools as a divisive topic of political debate, a 2021 survey of over one thousand Americans suggests public support across the political spectrum for comprehensive violence prevention strategies such as mental health and anti-bullying initiatives (Ranney, 2021; Burton et al., 2021). We agree with OPHA’s (2003) assertion that continued, multi-faceted efforts toward the prevention of gun violence are the responsibility of not only politicians at the state and national level, but of various community actors, including firearms experts and stakeholders, law enforcement, school boards, community agencies, mental health providers, hospitals, social media platforms, and news media outlets. We strongly believe that a whole-community response from each member of our Texas community is warranted for the betterment of our children; thus, we encourage these actors to continue to expand the coordination of services and communication to promote gun storage and safety, suicide prevention and mental health services, and community wellbeing.

Further resources for community prevention of gun violence can be found through Zero Youth Detention (zeroyouthdeterntion.com), AFFIRM Research (https://affirmresearch.org/programs), or the National Center on Safe Supportive Learning Environments (https://safesupportivelearning.ed.gov/).

References

  • Borum, R., Cornell, D. G., Modzeleski, W., & Jimerson, S. R. (2010). What can be done about school shootings? A review of the evidence. Educational Researcher, 39(1), 27-37.
  • Burton, A. L., Pickett, J. T., Jonson, C. L., Cullen, F. T., & Burton, V. S. (2021). Public Support for Policies to Reduce School Shootings: A moral-altruistic model. The Journal of Research in Crime and Delinquency, 58(3), 269-305. https://doi.org/10.1177/0022427820953202
  • ElSherief, M., Saha, K., Gupta, P., Mishra, S., Seybolt, J., Xie, J., O'Toole, M., Burd-Sharps, S., & De Choudhury, M. (2021). Impacts of School Shooter Drills on the Psychological Well-being of American K-12 School Communities: A social media study. Humanities & Social Sciences Communications, 8(1), 1-14. https://doi.org/10.1057/s41599-021-00993-6
  • Flannery, D. J., Fox, J. A., Wallace, L., Mulvey, E., & Modzeleski, W. (2021). Guns, School Shooters, and School Safety: What we know and directions for change. School Psychology Review, 50(2-3), 237-253.  https://doi.org/10.1080/2372966X.2020.1846458
  • Dowdell, E. B., Freitas, E., Owens, A., & Greenle, M. M. (2022). School shooters: Patterns of adverse childhood experiences, bullying, and social media. Journal of Pediatric Health Care. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.pedhc.2021.12.004
  • Ontario Public Health Association. (2003). Public Health and Violence Prevention - Maintaining the Momentum. https://opha.on.ca/wp-content/uploads/2020/09/2003-05_pp.pdf?ext=pdf
  • Peterson J, Erickson G, Knapp K, Densley J. (2021). Communication of Intent to Do Harm Preceding Mass Public Shootings in the United States, 1966 to 2019. JAMA Network Open, 4(11): e2133073. https://doi.org/10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2021.33073
  • Raitanen, J., Sandberg, S., & Oksanen, A. (2019). The Bullying-school Shooting Nexus: Bridging master narratives of mass violence with personal narratives of social exclusion. Deviant Behavior, 40(1), 96-109. https://doi.org/10.1080/01639625.2017.1411044
  • Ranney, M.. (March 20, 2021). We Must Treat Gun Violence as a Public Health Crisis, These 4 Steps Will Help Us Reduce Deaths. Time. https://time.com/5951001/gun-violence-public-health-crisis/
  • Vossekuil B., Fein R. A., Reddy M., Borum R., Modzeleski W..  (2002). The Final Report and Findings of the Safe School Initiative: Implications for the prevention of school attacks in the United States. US Secret Service and Department of Education. https://www2.ed.gov/admins/lead/safety/preventingattacksreport.pdf
  • Walker, C. (July, 2019). 10 years. 180 school shootings. 356 victims. CNN. https://www.cnn.com/interactive/2019/07/us/ten-years-of-school-shootings-trnd/