After yesterday’s tragic school shooting in Uvalde, the entire country is mourning the deaths of elementary students and their teachers. Inevitably, as after the other all-too-frequent school shootings and gun-related violence across the country, it will be politicized, discussed, and likely mired in argument and unproductive discussion. Until the next one happens. Repeat ad nauseum.
But let’s be really clear. 19 children and 2 teachers were killed in an American public school yesterday. This is the 27th school shooting incident this year in America. In 2021, there were 34. Young people are dying in our schools. In a place where they should feel safe.
At Getting Smart, we often think about innovation for equity – and this includes safety for every young person in every school as the fundamental basis for whole-child learning. This is a challenge we must solve.
- The United States ranked 11th in the world (12.21 per 100,000 people) for gun-related deaths in 2019.
- The United States ranks first in the world (125.5 firearms per 100 people) in gun-ownership in 2022.
- The United States ranks 2nd in the world (5.9%) in incidence of depression.
- More than 1 in 3 high school students had experienced persistent feelings of sadness or hopelessness in 2019, a 40 percent increase in 2009.
This is a complex and critical challenge that must be addressed. It is also not a one-dimensional cause. We present three strategies that, implemented together, could reduce these tragedies in the future.
1. Reduce the number of guns in the system, especially assault weapons. We recognize the 2nd amendment (added in 1791 with the fairly cryptic phrase: “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”) and also are clear that every school shooting was carried out by a gun. Limit available weapon types, be as careful about access as we are with a driver’s license, and conduct background screenings. Higher rates of gun ownership and more permissive regulations lead to higher mass shootings.
2. Fund and build all programs that increase a feeling of belonging and purpose in schools and communities. Every student must feel like they belong and are valued in the community. We are far from this with behaviors such as discrimination, racism, sexism, homophobia and bullying still widespread. Advisory, well-staffed counseling departments and mentorship programs, among others, support the cultivation of learner identity and agency.
3. Support programs that counteract the significant impacts of Adverse Childhood Events. Fund mental health programs, trauma-informed instruction, parent education and coaching, intervention and social-emotional curricula so that every child, no matter their external environment, has the resources they need to live a mentally and physically healthy life.
We need to look at the root cause. Easy access to guns capable of killing many people quickly, too much avoidance of mental health issues for both adults and young people, and too little emphasis placed on understanding the experience of families outside of school who face discrimination, poverty, mental health challenges, etc. are root causes.
It is easy to feel helpless. We can do something now for the Uvalde community. We can work tirelessly to create a better world for everyone, not just some. We can begin to work together rather than apart. We can help build an education system where everyone belongs, everyone is safe, everyone’s needs are met, and everyone’s opportunities are limitless. Next-generation learning models that focus on the whole-child only matter if students and teachers are first safe in their classrooms.
It is time to reassess our thinking about what is important. The United States leads the world in so many ways. Gun-related deaths and school shootings should not be one of these. Let’s meet this challenge together.
Resources on Mental Health & Gun Safety Advocacy
- Sandy Hook Promise
- EveryTown for Gun Safety
- March for Our Lives
- Trevor Project
- National Alliance for Mental Illness
- Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration Hotline