Preventing Gun Violence
Since the Columbine tragedy in 1999, methods for preventing gun violence in schools have primarily focused on profiling: learning what the “typical shooter” looks like and stopping them before they carry out a crime. Given the high rate of school shootings, it’s clear that a more multi-faceted approach is necessary.
Youth mental health threats are illuminating a significant need for actionable solutions for students in a post-pandemic world.
A major issue with this approach is that there is no “typical” profile for a shooter. This fact has been confirmed in numerous studies by the CDC, the Secret Service, and the Department of Education and more. These studies did, however, identify risk factors that correlate with school violence, which includes school shootings.
The takeaway from these studies that stands out more than any other is that most school violence is carried out by students or former students with mental health issues. Therefore, school violence is a mental health issue.
Gun Violence in America
What about mass shooters in America in general?
A recent study funded by the U.S. Department of Justice found that shooters generally share common traits. Many shooters:
The study is the largest single study ever funded by the U.S. government that focuses on mass shooters.
With data reaching back to August 1, 1966, the study reveals several startling gun violence statistics.
The data reveals that mass shootings in America are becoming more frequent and more deadly.
Over 53 years, the massive study logged 167 mass shootings. 20% of them have occurred within the last five years, and half have happened since 2000.
How Do We End Gun Violence?
It’s clear that gun violence is on the rise, and students are all too often faced with tragedy because of it. We know that profiling a “typical” shooter and trying to stop them before it’s too late does not always work.
So, what does work?
To stop gun violence in our schools, in our homes, and on our streets, Rachel’s Challenge posits implementing social-emotional learning (SEL) programs that teach students how to interact with their feelings in a healthy way, interact with others in a healthy way, and teach resilience while building connectedness can prevent school violence. Time and time again, research has shown that SEL can and does make schools safer while decreasing gun violence.
Gun Violence and Mental Health
Rachel’s Challenge promotes social-emotional learning as a sound preventive measure against school violence that can impact everything from bullying to school shootings.
In order to prevent gun violence, we must address the underlying mental health issues in schools and throughout communities.
The CDC has declared that acceptance, resilience, healthy social skills, emotional skills, and connectedness are essential in bringing about effective change when it comes to gun violence.
One of the shared characteristics between many mass shooters is untreated mental illness. Oftentimes, a shooting is carried out when a shooter reaches a breaking point.
While many people are able to cope with trauma and stress without resorting to violence, the risk of violent behaviors increases if people are not given the skills, connectedness, tools, acceptance, and support they need when they are children.
Social-Emotional Learning and Violence Prevention
Those tools and skills that children need are instilled through SEL. A major component of SEL is learning how to handle stressful situations with healthy coping mechanisms. Social-emotional learning helps children in a multitude of ways, including by:
The benefits that social-emotional learning brings to students (and adults, for that matter) can not be overstated.
SEL increases self-awareness and acceptance of others, and people with strong social and emotional skills suffer less from stress, depression, and anxiety.
They are better able to overcome challenges throughout life and maintain healthy support circles.
In addition, research shows that students with strong social and emotional skills perform better academically, miss fewer days of school, are involved in far fewer delinquent acts, and display fewer conduct problems. These students also have a higher graduation rate and are shown to be more successful in their careers.
Children and adults with strong social and emotional skills are able to solve difficult problems in healthy ways, and they have less aggression and better anger management skills.
All of these qualities and skills remain critical throughout a person’s entire life. Those skills must be introduced as early as possible and reinforced throughout their schooling.
Rachel’s Challenge: A Proactive Approach to School Violence
In order to decrease the prevalence of gun violence, both in schools and outside of them, we must shift from a reactive mindset to one of prevention.
Studies show a strong link between mass shootings and suicidal motivations: almost 70% of shooters were suicidal before or during shootings. That percentage is even higher when it comes to school shooters.
Rachel’s Challenge is a powerful, effective, and well-received social-emotional learning program that has impacted over 30 million students in more than 20,000 schools and prevented eight school shootings, as corroborated by law enforcement.
As a catalyst for connection, Rachel’s Challenge teaches school staff how to help students learn the social and emotional skills they need to cultivate a safe, supportive, connected school environment.
When people, including students, feel a sense of connection, acceptance, and belonging, they can ignite change. They can bring about the shift in gun violence that is so desperately needed in America. Just as Rachel Joy Scott, one of the students lost during the Columbine tragedy, said, “People will never know how far a little kindness can go.”