It is heartbreaking that, once again, we have a mass school shooting in America. This time it’s in Broward County, Florida.
We are all growing weary, some of us maybe even numb, to these far too frequent horrors.
It does indeed feel there is a gaping hole in our nation’s soul as these school shootings are only increasing in rapidity. School shootings are only one example of the rampant gun violence we face in America. It is time we take a serious look at this epidemic of violence and begin to implement real solutions; they are out there.
It’s hard to deny that easy access to guns, especially semi-automatics, play a serious role in these mass shooting tragedies in the U.S. How many mass school shootings happen in nations with strict controls on guns? How many mass school shootings in the United Kingdom each year? None. How many in Australia? None. How many in Canada? None. The list could go on. And yet, our mass shootings in the U.S. continue to rack up. There is certainly a correlation. But there are other important causes at play as well.
Of course, mass school shootings are only one indication of the violence that plagues our communities around our nation — particularly for our youth. In the U.S., youth homicide rates are more than 10 times that of other leading industrialized nations, on par with the rates in developing countries and those experiencing rapid social and economic changes.
The Bureau of Justice reported in 2010 that 25% of women have experienced domestic violence and 6 million children witness domestic violence annually.
Nearly 1 in 3 students (27.8%) report being bullied during the school year. Bullied victims are between 2 to 9 times more likely to consider suicide than non-victims, according to studies by Yale University.
These are only a few of the indicators of what may feed into the hopelessness and despair that causes so much violence in America. We don’t know the story yet of the shooter in Florida, but he was clearly disturbed.
There are too many people falling through the cracks in our society – who feel isolated and in despair. This can often lead to acts of violence. From gang violence to school shootings, those who feel voiceless and hopeless, who have typically experienced significant untreated trauma, are often the ones who turn to violence as they hit the peak of their anguish.
We must develop social structures and comprehensive strategies that can help bring healing to our communities and build resilience in our society. Can we really afford to wait any longer to do so?
The good news is that there are many effective modalities that are being developed and in fact, in place now all over the country. They are not anywhere near the scale needed, but we know what to do now more than ever. It’s time for our policymakers to catch up. And we all have to be part of championing it to them.
Here are a few of the key areas we need to engage:
Let’s start with our schools. We need to bring into our schools conflict resolution curricula with tools such as social & emotional learning, communication techniques, restorative justice processes, mindfulness, and other proven peacebuilding skills can help transform violence, bullying, truancy, and other challenges facing youth.
Social and Emotional Learning is a particularly effective approach. It teaches self awareness, empathy, impulse control, motivation and social skills through which children (and adults) acquire and effectively apply the knowledge, attitudes and skills necessary to understand and manage emotions, set and achieve positive goals, feel and show empathy for others, establish and maintain positive relationships, and make responsible decisions.
Community oriented solutions and criminal justice alternatives are also critically important.
Integrated and Systemic Family/Community Support Services and other “wrap-around” services are also key. They include Multi-systemic and/or Functional Family Therapy, which are intensive family- and community-based treatment programs that focus on addressing all environmental systems that impact chronic and violent juvenile offenders — their homes and families, schools and teachers, neighborhoods and friends.
While our current criminal justice system focuses almost solely on ineffective and punitive-based measures, quality prevention programs are proving to be far more effective. Quality prevention incorporates data collection and analysis to pinpoint populations and locations at greatest risk, to identify risk and resilience factors, to develop effective strategies that prevent violence before it occurs, and to reduce the impact of those risk factors that cause violence to recur.
Community peacebuilding work can utilize a public health approach to deal with violence that engages multiple sectors to coordinate with each other and community members. This is similar to those used to reverse epidemic disease outbreaks.
Restorative Justice is an approach to justice that provides an effective process and container for the development of understanding between offenders and victims as well as the wider community. It provides the conditions, guided by victims, for the possibility of healing and restoration. The nature of a restorative process guided by victims’ needs allows for offenders to come to terms with the human cost of their actions and attempts to right the wrong together with all stakeholders.
Trauma-Informed Child- and Family-Service Systems in our justice systems offer new approaches in criminal justice in which all parties involved recognize and respond to the impact of traumatic stress on those who have contact with the system including children, caregivers, and service providers. Programs and agencies within such a system infuse and sustain trauma awareness, knowledge, and skills into their organizational cultures, practices, and policies.
You can learn more about these and many other important “peacebuilding” approaches at: www.peacealliance.org/peace-cornerstones/
We must commit ourselves as a nation to forge real building blocks of peace — in every corner of our society. As we continue to see with these tragedies like this latest school shooting, the consequences of not doing so are too dire. Thankfully, there is so much we can do.