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Preventing Youth Gun Violence in Schools

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. 

Read our State of Youth Mental Health Report

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:

Have experienced childhood trauma
Have a specific grievance and/or endured a personal crisis
Have examples that validate their feelings or provide a “roadmap”
Have access to a firearm

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 Youth 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 youth gun violence in schools, in our homes, and on our streets, Rachel’s Challenge posits implementing social and mental health 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 our programs can and do make schools safer while youth decreasing gun violence.

Youth Gun Violence and Mental Health

Rachel’s Challenge promotes encouraging teens to learn how to manage emotions, achieve goals, feel empathy, show kindness and compassion, and make responsible decisions. Our programs are a sound preventive measure against school violence that can impact everything from bullying to school shootings.

In order to prevent youth gun violence in schools, we must address the underlying mental health issues 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.


Programs Built to Create Connectedness

Our programs emphasize tools and skills that children need to face modern challenges. are instilled through SEL. A major component of our approach is learning how to handle stressful situations with healthy coping mechanisms such as:

Teaching them how to recognize and cope with their feelings
Helping them know how to set attainable, healthy goals (and reach them)
Teaching them how to learn and think positively about challenges
Building their self-esteem
Teaching them how to establish and maintain positive relationships with others
Promoting building and demonstrating empathy for others
Instilling the importance of and skills for maintaining self-control
Helping them build emotional resilience

At Rachel’s Challenge we aim to increase 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-regulation 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 Preventing Youth Gun Violence in Schools

In order to decrease the prevalence of youth gun violence, in schools and within communities, 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 well-received, powerful, evidence-based, tier one intervention 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.”

To learn more about how Rachel’s Challenge programs can help your school to cultivate a student-led culture that is healthy, supportive, empathetic, and kind, fill out this form and connect with a member of our team.

Accept the challenge

Join the nearly 30,000,000 people around the world who have accepted Rachel’s Challenge to start a chain reaction of kindness.