Video by Kadida Kenner, Why Courts Matter
If you haven’t yet seen the video above it begs the question, “Have you been living under a rock?” (Sorry, I couldn’t help myself.) There are many crazy solutions being put forth to solve the problem of gun violence in schools besides arming kids with rocks-think asking teachers to pack heat. In the fervor of the moment, it’s no surprise we’re getting ahead of ourselves. The first step in solving a problem is to identify it, which believe it or not isn’t as easy as it would seem.
One would have thought and many certainly hoped that after the events at Columbine and Sandy Hook we as a country would have a better handle on addressing school shootings; gun laws would have changed, people would be more vigilant for signs of distress in individuals prone to violence, and incidents of mass shootings would decline. Unfortunately the answers remain as clear as mud. What exactly is the number of school shootings since Sandy Hook, for example? Why isn’t there a definitive answer to this question?
A large part of the problem boils down to data. Is anyone out there tracking and analyzing data on shootings? We know that the CDC has had its hands tied by the Dickey Amendment, so it’s often up to outside groups to collect the necessary information-groups like Everytown for Gun Safety and the Gun Violence Archive, which relies on volunteers.
If we use Everytown’s statistics, there have been 17 school shootings in 2018 (remember we’re only 3 months into the year) and 290 since 2013. These figures include suicides and fights between adults which occurred on school property.
Not long after the Marjory Stoneman Douglas event, Time magazine published an article that examined the statistics reported by Everytown.* Time came up with a definition of a school shooting that includes the following:
*The statistics Time examined were based on reports from 86 attacks since 2013 and excluded events occurring on college campuses.
63 out of the 86 reports from Everytown, met Time’s definition of a school shooting as outlined above. Out of the 17 that Everytown reported since the start of 2018, 4 met Time’s criteria. Time concluded that “6 adults and 35 children killed in these types of school shootings, as well as 12 adults and 92 children injured” since 2013.
In a similar vein, the New York Times did an article based on data from the Gun Violence Archive and came up with 239 school shootings (including those on college campuses) with 138 deaths.
The Washington Post took a different angle. The Post found that although the media and lawmakers tend to focus on predominantly white schools when it comes to mass shootings, children from minority groups are much more likely to experience gun violence on school campuses. “Nearly twice as much for Hispanic students and three times as much for black students,” The Post reports. The Post had its own definition of what constitutes a school shooting that was far more narrow than the parameters used by Everytown and the Gun Violence Archive.
Source: The Washington Post
“The Post counted only incidents that happened immediately before, during or just after classes to pinpoint the number of students who were present and affected at the time. Shootings at after-hours events, accidental discharges that caused no injuries, and suicides that occurred privately or didn’t pose a threat to other children were excluded, though many of these can be deeply disturbing. Gunfire at colleges and universities, which affect young adults rather than children, also were excluded.”
The Post found that there have been an average of 10 shootings per year since Columbine with 130 kids, educators, and staff killed and 234 injured. But what stands out in their analysis is that even though we’re barely into 2018, there have already been eleven shootings-meaning this year is among the deadliest on record.
It quickly becomes apparent after looking at the discrepancies in the numbers between the reports and the subsequent journalistic analyses, that there is a dire need for common language and common criteria for any reliable study to be completed. Based on these studies alone, one can conclude that when it comes to data, there’s a long row to hoe.
So far we’ve learned that identifying the problem isn’t going to be simple. Now let’s take a very cursory look at some of the symptoms and causes of school shootings and what some more level-headed people than those who populate our State House are suggesting should be done.
One thing that was surprising in the Washington Post analysis was that most people’s conception of schools shootings as some random act of violence is mistaken. Targeted shootings with a specific victim in mind are by far the majority. The Post points out that these types of shootings are often the hardest to prevent, because the gunman usually knows exactly where the victim will be and the event is over in a matter of minutes or seconds.
Source: The Washington Post
While the cause of targeted shootings is often apparent, such as domestic disputes or gang-related fights, what we often hear is that the perpetrator has been a target himself. One case study found in looking at 15 separate school shootings that the gunmen experienced “acute or chronic rejection—in the form of ostracism, bullying, and/or romantic rejection” in all but two cases. The study also found three additional risk factors that the assailants had in common, “an interest in firearms or bombs, a fascination with death or Satanism, and psychological problems involving depression, impulse control, or sadistic tendencies.”
So what can be done? We know that “zero tolerance” policies are ineffective. We also know that teachers overwhelmingly reject the idea of carrying guns into the classroom. In a Gallup study of K-12 teachers, 3 out of 4 said they opposed arming teachers. Other measures that may seem effective are often times harmful. Take metal detectors, for example. “Metal detectors are seen as a symptom of a stigma that already exists”, said Mark Fancher, staff attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan's Racial Justice Project. "There is a presumption that urban schools — particularly those with students of color — are violent places and security demands you have procedures in place that are intended to protect the safety of the students. But metal detectors, property searches, security guards and police in schools create conditions similar to those found in prisons,” he said. "Students, themselves, internalize these things. If you create a school that looks like a prison, the people who go there will pretty much decide that's what is expected of them."
The National Association of School Psychologists suggests conducting Threat Assessments. These assessments are done by a team which would include mental health professionals, school administrators, and local law enforcement. The idea behind it is that individuals prone to violence often telegraph their intentions in some manner. Threat Assessments would seek to provide a preventative measure for schools to adopt.
Law enforcement officials have their own recommendations on how to prevent school violence:*
a. develop trusting relationships with students to help them feel that someone cares
and is willing to listen
b. law enforcement should be visible and maintain a presence in the school
c. minimize tolerance for bullying (which is often a precursor to school violence)
d. encourage non-violent ways of resolving conflict
e. provide safety related training such as “Run, Hide, Fight”
*Excerpted from Violence Prevention in Schools: Enhancement Through Law Enforcement Partnerships, March 2017. Compiled by the FBI from interviews of school resource officers, law enforcement executives, and the U.S. Department of Education
Retired educator, Paul Eaken, points out that all five of the above goals are applicable to school counselors and administrators. Research has demonstrated that a student who feels that someone in the school cares about them is less likely to display violent behavior in school.
Voltaire wrote, “No problem can withstand the assault of sustained thinking.” That certainly applies to the challenges of gun violence, but this is a problem that requires intellect combined with action. If you agree that’s the case, then we should all be encouraged. Look no further than Marjory Stoneman Douglas or Reading Senior High School. Maybe the solution is not so elusive afterall.
posted by Amy Levengood with research by Paul Eaken