Today’s Solutions: September 25, 2022

School shootings are a problem that really shouldn’t be a problem. That said, the grim reality is that they happen far too often, especially in the United States. In the wake of a string of deadly and gruesome mass shootings, psychology professor Paul Boxer revisits his research on how to prevent violence. Boxer has come up with five policy changes that, according to his research, would successfully reduce school shootings.

Dramatically limit access to guns

Based on the data collected by Boxer and his colleagues, more restrictive gun laws are linked to lower rates of homicides by guns, while permissive firearm laws and higher rates of gun ownership are associated with higher rates of school shootings.

These correlations stayed true, even once Boxer and team took into consideration demographic, economic, and educational factors.

This demonstrates that gun regulations do make a difference. Some measures to implement could include raising the age for the legal purchase of guns, imposing long waiting periods before access is granted, requiring thorough background checks, and eliminating gun access for individuals at a high risk of committing violence, such as those who have a history of domestic violence.

Use more violence risk assessments in schools

Since the Columbine shooting in 1999, school shootings have been heavily studied by researchers and federal law enforcement agencies, leading to the development of risk assessments that are designed to identify a young person’s risk of committing actual violence.

An array of professionals including police officers, school officials, and teachers can conduct these assessments, with the support of mental health professionals like school counselors and psychologists. As a team, these professionals work together to determine a young person’s violence risk.

Through this collaborative effort may not prevent every incident, improving the overall process of identifying potentially violent individuals should be made a priority. A 2015 study involving “The Virginia Student Threat Assessment Guidelines,” a set of guidelines on how to investigate a reported threat, how to assess the individual making the threat, and how to follow through with preventative or protective measures, demonstrates how the guidelines reduce rates of student aggression and lower out-of-school suspension rates. 

Expand evidence-based strategies to reduce violent behavior

Research suggests that aggressive and violent behavior comes out of a mix of personal and environmental risk factors that include impulsivity, callousness, exposure to violence, and victimization. 

Thanks to this research, students have been taught effective approaches to dealing with and preventing aggression through problem-solving and teaching students how to consider another person’s motivations when they feel provoked.

Increasing the availability and use of evidence-based interventions within schools would help reduce the number of young people who grow up to become violent individuals.

Make school buildings safer

To boost feelings of safety and security in response to multiple school shootings across the nation, many facilities will turn to upgraded camera surveillance and/or increased law enforcement. 

These measures have mixed effects on how students and teachers feel about safety and support. For instance, cameras outside the school can promote feelings of safety, while cameras inside the building create feelings of unease. Adding more law enforcement presence makes teachers feel safer, but often ends up criminalizing student misbehavior without having much of an effect on making the school more secure.

A better investment would be for schools to improve physical security by installing metal detectors at school entry points, which will reduce the probability of a weapon being brought into the school without increasing student anxiety.

Reduce exposure to violence through media and social media

Violent images of physical assaults, gun violence, and gore are everywhere on entertainment media and social media. 

Though exposure to virtual violence might not lead to increased aggressive behavior for every child or youth, it may lead to increased hostility, aggressive feelings, and emotional desensitization to violence. All of these factors could ultimately lead to aggressive behavior, so it’s safer to reduce the amount of screen violence to which children and adolescents are exposed, especially in early development.

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