Parkland leader Emma Gonzales once asked a poignant question: do you care more about guns or us? She pointed to a disturbing fact: The rate of gun homicides among children ages 5-14 in the U.S. is 18 times higher than the rate in other high-income nations.
As if to silently answer her question, parents who’ve dropped children at school in the morning sometimes linger a few moments longer, gazing through the fence for the last look of the day at a precious son or daughter. In order to protect those children, we need to translate that fierce affection into practical steps towards safety from the weapons that have plagued our nation. Continuing last week’s theme, some of these efforts are:
Growing Suicide Awareness
New understandings of suicide–which accounts for 2/3 of all gun deaths– can help anyone intervene. The decision to take one’s own life is impulsive, usually made within 5 to 10 minutes. Research showing the brain isn’t fully developed until age 21 would suggest that teens are especially impulsive. Whether or not an attempt succeeds depends on the choice of means, with firearms most likely to kill, and drugs least likely. When a gun is in the home, suicide is 3 to 5 times more likely to occur. Veterans are twice as likely as the general population to kill themselves, and 2/3 of vets who died used a gun. So while mass shootings grab headlines, the silent, less discussed killer is the easily available firearm for the impulsive act.
No one wants an innocent to die. Gun owners naturally wanting to safeguard family members can place simple barriers around firearms. Easy and effective precautions: locking the case and placing the key where children and teens can’t find it or storing ammunition separately from weapons.
In several states, a partnership between gun shops and public health officials has developed. The store displays information about safe gun storage and suicide prevention hot lines—helpful information for everyone, without a political tinge. Brochures are available on the counter: while it’s hard to track the effect, participants are hopeful and the incentive is spreading. Given the surge in gun sales and suicides since the pandemic, this collaboration seems crucial.
“Stop the Bleed” provides life-saving equipment originally used by military medics that doctors hope will become as widespread as defibrillators for schools, malls, law enforcement agencies, and community public safety. Often, the victim of a shot bleeds to death in the first five minutes, before emergency personnel arrive. But by-standers can grab the kit’s tourniquets, dressings and gauze to save a life immediately.
Sandy Hook Promise
Founded and led by those who lost loved ones (20 children, 6 educators) at Sandy Hook school on 12/14/12, this heroic group hopes that no one else should suffer what they have. So far, they’ve trained over 12 million students to build empathy and inclusivity through their no-cost program to schools. While a policy arm works on federal and state legislation, this initiative seeks to offset “too much focus on the gun, not the human.”
The profile of serial killers shows most were badly bullied before they attacked. So, “Start with Hello,” at levels K-6 and 6-12 helps students minimize social isolation. “Know the Signs” establishes student-led organizations for information, recognition of warning signs, and support to discuss areas of concern. “Say Something,” grades 6-12 provides an anonymous arena for students to voice their safety issues.
Their website (https://www.sandyhookpromise.org) in addition to heart-breaking photos of the children who died, presents fascinating videos. In one, children draw the monsters-under-the-bed that frighten them, while their parents talk about creative strategies to defeat those monsters. But when asked how to protect their children from school violence, the same parents fall oddly silent. It’s a topic no one wants to consider, but how can we live with ourselves if we don’t?
Better to adopt the confidence of this quote from the website: “Many students fear that it’s only a matter of when, not if, a shooting will erupt on their school campus. Subconsciously accepting shootings as regular occurrences has become the ‘new normal’ at schools and public spaces across the country. But it doesn’t have to be this way. By focusing on early identification, action and intervention it is possible to prevent tragedies.”
For a more detailed account of the latest studies see https://rockinst.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/07/Public-Mass-Shootings-Brief.pdf. This clear, coherent report was produced by the Regional Gun Violence Research Consortium. This group of professionals “is dedicated to the reduction of gun violence involving firearms through interdisciplinary research and analysis.” They offer “evidence-based, data-driven policy recommendations to disrupt the cycle of firearm-involved mass shootings, homicides, suicides, and accidents.” Their charts show clear profiles of perpetrators, locations of shootings and types of weapons. They conclude: “Knee-jerk reactions rooted in emotion will not solve the problem. The evidence produced to date shows that the problem requires solutions that are versatile and grounded in evidence to be effective.”
Amen. The work on this issue by many different groups brings hope and confidence to a once-dark scene.