Today, December 14th, marks the nine year anniversary of the tragic shooting at the Sandy Hook Elementary school where many children and adults where senselessly killed. Since Sunny Hook more than 500,000 people in the United States have been killed by senseless gun violence. Additionally, there have been 350 school shootings since Sandy Hook Elementary and 28 of those shootings occurred this year (CDC). Also since the Columbine shooting in 1999, 278,000 students have been exposed to gun violence, 157 students have been killed and 357 students have been injured by school shootings (Gun Violence Archive).
In reviewing the subject of school shootings, I read an article by Cody Fenwick regarding children and gun violence. His article was very alarming. Since it is the nine year anniversary of the Sandy Hook shooting and it has been 3 years since the Parkland school shootings, Fenwick’s article about children and guns is very important. His article also outlines a strong connection to guns and the senseless shootings and to the alarming numbers of teenagers who commit suicide with a gun. The article by, Fenwick, confirmed what I am hearing from teenagers and children in psychotherapy. Additionally, other school shootings, such as the one in Nashville, or the shootings in the Synagogue in Pennsylvania or in the Texas Church, confirm the need for gun control. A point the statistics in Fenwick’s article support.
Many of us feel because we live in Pleasant Hill, Walnut Creek or Lafayette that our children and teenagers do not have to worry about gangs or gun violence. Unfortunately, this is not the truth. According to a new research study in the Journal of Pediatrics, guns continue to be the third-leading cause of death for Americans younger than 18 years old, killing around 1,300 children and teenagers a year in the United States. In addition, almost 6,000 children and teenagers are injured per year. Many teenagers are permanently disabled from these injuries.
The study examined data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Consumer Product Safety Commission between 2002 and 2014. The study found that boys, especially older boys such as teenagers and minorities, were much more likely to be the victims of gun violence. The study did not say anything about where the boys lived. The facts are children who are male and teenagers, are at a higher risk for becoming a victim of gun violence. Therefore, teenagers in any area of the United States are at risk of becoming a victim of gun violence.
The study does indicate there has been a decrease in accidental deaths such as boys cleaning a gun. However, the rate as a method for suicide has increased. I have mentioned before in other articles that suicide is the second leading cause of death for 10 year old boys. This study confirms that statistic and indicates the preferred method of suicide for boys and teenagers are guns. According to Katherine Fowler, one of the lead researchers at the CDC, “Firearm injuries are an important public health problem, contributing substantially to premature death and disability of children.” Understanding their nature [guns] and impact is a first step toward prevention.”
When we look at these numbers, can anyone argue against taking steps to protect our children? Can you imagine a 10 year old boy using a gun to kill himself? Can you imagine a 10 year old boy feeling that his life is so bad at the age of ten that death seems like a better option than living?
The study indicates that in recent years guns were responsible for a large number of adolescent, males who were murdered. The study documented that deaths in the category of murder for boys under the age of 18 years old decreased to 53 percent. This is a decrease yet the rate is still 53%. The other causes of gun-related deaths include:
• 38 percent — suicides
• 6 percent — unintentional deaths
• 3 percent — law enforcement/undetermined cause
The study found 82% of those killed due to a gun were boys. This means 82% of gun deaths were boys who were children or teenagers. Putting it another way, this means these boys were not even 18 years old yet at the time of their deaths. The study also found that Caucasian and American Indian children have the highest rate of suicide using a gun.
We also like to think that the United States in one of the most advanced nations in the world. However, the statistics show that the United States has the highest rate in the world for children under 14 years old committing suicide. Again, the United States has the highest rate of children under 14 years old using a gun to commit suicide. That number scares me and is appalling to me. However, as an adolescent and child psychotherapist, I do not doubt it. I have heard 6 year old boys seriously discussing suicide.
Furthermore, I hear teenagers routinely talking about needing to carry a knife or gun with them for protection. They tell me you never know when you will be jumped and you need to be able to protect yourself. In fact, a few years ago a teenager was shot on his front door step in Danville over a marijuana deal. When I mention to teens the risks they are taking by caring knives or guns, the boys tell me there is no guarantee they will live until 30 years old. They would rather die protecting themselves than doing nothing. Violence in our society has become so severe that many teenagers do not expect to live to the age of 30. Think about that fact.
As a society, we need to look at these numbers and ask ourselves some questions. What are we going to do in order to improve gun safety? Most importantly, why are children as young as 6 years old thinking about suicide? Also what are we going to do so that children who are suicidal have access to mental health care? This is our problem because it does happen in Pleasant Hill, Walnut Creek and Lafayette.The students at Park Side High School and the Parents from Sunny Hook have marched and petitioned for sane gun control laws. However, nothing has happened so why should children believe us when we say we can keep them safe?
Also the recent school shooting in Oxford, Michigan shows how we are not protecting children from gun violence or providing mental health care when needed. Here is an adolescent teenage boy who one one day researching buying ammunition and the next day drawing a picture of people being killed and saying I can’t stop the thoughts and I need help. The teen should have been hospitalized immediately for being a danger to self or others. Instead the school and the parents have a meeting and they decide the boy needs psychotherapy within 48 hours. Instead of sending the boy home, he is allowed to return to the classroom because the parents decide he should stay at school. As I said he should have been hospitalized and the school should have demanded he leave the campus immediately. However, because the adults failed to follow their duties, students at the school were killed and injured senselessly. You think we would have learned after Columbine, Sandy Hook or Parkland, but we didn’t. How many kids have to die at school before we act? Why won’t we enact sane gun laws?
Dr. Rubino has 24 years experience as a psychotherapist working with children and teenagers, trauma victims and first responders. For more information about his work or private practice visit his website at www.RubinoCounseling.com or his Facebook page www.facebook.com/drrubino3.