Parents, teachers and students have been worried about mass shootings and school shootings. Many children are afraid to go to school because they are afraid of being killed at school. Many children are frightened by the mass shooter drills. It makes sense why students, teachers and parents would worry about these issues and situations. However, now we have turned a very scary corner regarding school shootings. Over the past few weeks we had a six year old in Virginia who had a disagreement with his teacher take a gun out of his backpack and shot his teacher (CNN, ABC, CBS news). Thank God, the teacher survived and is recovering in the hospital. We also had another school shooting at Michigan State University and finally a school shooting and funerals this week at an elementary school in Nashville, Tennessee. Three teachers were killed and 3 nine year old students were killed. Those six families will be grieving and recovering from funerals this Easter not celebrating because of a gun.
This brings up a whole new set of questions and concerns. How did a six year old boy manage to get a hold of a gun? How did he get it into his school? How did he know how to use a gun? Are teachers now going to need to be concerned that if a student is upset with them that the student might shoot them? Do they need to wear bulletproof vests while working? Do we need metal detectors in elementary schools? These are a lot of questions and unfortunately we don’t have any firm answers yet.
If we look at the history of school and mass shootings maybe we should have seen this incident coming. In 2022 we had an increase of 50% in the number of mass shootings compared to 2020 (Gun Violence Archive). The year 2022 had the most mass shootings on record for a year and the year held that record before 2022 was even over (CDC, Brady Gunn Violence Campaign). As I stated many children are afraid of attending school due to school shootings such as in Uvlade, Texas where 18 elementary school children and 2 teachers were killed. However, the police and school failed to give parents direct answers about what occurred that day even after several months had passed since the shooting. Can we blame children for being afraid when every weekend there are numerous mass shootings across the country with numerous people being killed. Also the shootings are usually done with an automatic gun. The most common is the AR15. This gun was designed to be used in wars and it’s sole purpose is to kill. It is not a hunting rifle, it is a weapon of war.
I understand that many people start to say we need to address mental health issues to prevent these shootings. However, the evidence shows that people dealing with a mental illness are more likely to hurt themselves than others and people with mental illness are more likely to be the victims of violent crimes because they are more likely to be living on the streets (CDC). Yes mental health is an important issue in the United States. Currently, many people are having to wait months to get into a therapist because there are not enough therapists to serve all the people who need therapy (CDC, NAMI). While this is true, addressing mental health will not stop the mass shootings. Also the AR15 can kill many, many people at one time. In fact, the Nashville Police stated until we eliminate the AR15, the police will always be playing catch up. No matter how fast they respond there will always be a significant number of deaths because the AR15 shoots a large number of bullets at one time killing a large number of people at one time. As a result, many parents and children are afraid to go to school or go to public places because they are afraid of being killed.
As a psychotherapist who treats children and teenagers, I hear many children and teens talking about their safety at school and around town while they are playing or hanging out. I have had many children state they are afraid to go to school because they are afraid of being killed. Yes anxiety disorders and depression have increased significantly since the pandemic, however, anxiety and depression in children and teenagers were increasing prior to the pandemic. Anxiety and depression disorders started increasing as school mass shootings increased (CDC). I have seen this in public too. I was attending the play Oklahoma and when they shot the stage gun, the 12 year old behind me started having a panic attack and had to leave because they were afraid of being killed. It did not matter what the parents said or did. They automatically had a link between the sound of a gun and people dying. No child should have to be that afraid.
Teenagers are taking somewhat of a different response to the mass shootings. Many teenagers are also suffering from anxiety and depression disorders such as elementary children (CDC). However, many teenagers also seem to believe if they have a gun that will keep them safe. While researching this issue of gun violence, I read an article by Cody Fenwick regarding children and gun violence. His article was very alarming. Since there has been a significant increase in mass shootings, more teenagers have been trying to find ways to have access to guns. As I stated for some teenagers they say they feel safer if they can access a gun. However, the major issue is that suicide has been significantly increasing for teenagers over the years (CDC). Suicide is now an epidemic in teenagers and guns are one of the most popular methods of suicide for teenagers. Many children who are bullied are choosing guns for suicide too. Therefore, as we examine how mass shootings are impacting our society, it’s important to look at how easy access to guns is resulting in an increasing number of teenagers committing suicide.
Many of us feel because we live in Pleasant Hill, Walnut Creek, Lafayette or Orinda that our children and teenagers do not have to worry about gangs or gun violence. Unfortunately, this is not the truth. According to a 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 by guns. Many teenagers are permanently disabled from these injuries. For teenagers who commit suicide, guns are the second-leading cause of death. The CDC has recently moved suicide from the third-leading cause of death for teenagers to the second-leading cause of death. This is a scary fact that the rate of teenage suicides are increasing not decreasing.
The study in the Journal of Pediatrics 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 regardless of where they live. Therefore, teenagers in our area 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 that suicide is no longer the third leading cause of death for 10 year old boys. It is now the second leading cause of death for boys 10 to 18 years old. 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? At the age of 10, he has given up hope for a decent life. This is a sad fact. Can you imagine being the parent or sibling of a 10 year old suicide victim and finding your child’s brains all over the room? How did a 10 year old get a gun for suicide? How does a teenager get a gun to shot and kill people at their high school?
We now need to answer how does a six year old get a gun and take it to school? If teenagers are feeling the need to carry guns and 10 year old boys are using guns for suicide, is it really a surprise that a six year old boy has a gun at school? If we examine the research as the number of school shootings have increased so have the number of students feeling that they need to have guns to be safe. Furthermore, as we follow the research the age of students feeling they need a gun is getting younger and younger. Ten year old boys were selecting guns for suicide so why wouldn’t they and younger boys start to feel that they needed guns to be safe?
If we are getting to this point with mass and school shootings, we must figure out why they are so common in the United States and start to implement remedies to stop them. Additionally, we need to examine and implement sane gun laws so that 6 and 10 year old boys cannot get access to and use guns for suicide or to kill someone else. We have laws preventing children from driving cars, drinking alcohol and even voting. These laws do not interfere with any adults from driving, drinking alcohol or voting. Therefore, safe, sane gun laws designed to protect children will not interfere with any adult’s second amendment rights. We must realize that the arguments the Gun lobby makes that laws protecting children are ridiculous and need to be ignored. Or do we want to have schools where a first grader can kill his teacher because he was upset with her? Think about that type of school.
While you are considering those facts here are some additional findings from the research study. The study also 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 deaths by guns 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 white and American Indian children have the highest rate of suicide using a gun. How did they get access to the guns?
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 or there will be a mass shooting 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 which went bad. When I mention to teens the risks they are taking carrying a gun, they tell me there is no guarantee they will live until 30 years old anyway. They would rather die protecting themselves than doing nothing.
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? How are adolescent boys getting access to guns? 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, Lafayette, Orinda and Danville.
What is happening in the United States? We are seeing mass shootings increase, violence against Asian Americans and Jewish Americans, Transgender teenagers and police killings. What is happening in the United States? We are the only Country in the world dealing with mass shootings? When New Zealand had a mass shooting a couple of years ago, the Prime Minister eliminated all automatic weapons from the country in 2 weeks. The people of New Zealand still live happy lives and own guns too. They just don’t own AR15s which were designed for the military and wars.
The United States claims to be the most advanced nation in the world. Maybe Congress needs to look at these numbers and think about their actions. For example, Republicans stating the attack on the US Capital was not violent is crazy. It was violent. Several police officers were killed and they wanted to hang the Vice President. I think that qualifies as violent. We have videos of people assaulting the Capital Police and demanding to hang the Vice President. The Republicans in the House of Representatives remove Represetative Cheney from her leadership post because she won’t lie and say that Biden did not win the Presidential Election. Finally, you have a Republican representative comparing the requirement to wear masks in the House Chambers because everyone in the House of Representatives were not vaccinated at the time. Someone who speaks the truth is removed and someone who makes racist, homophobic and anti Semitic statements is praised. This may be one part of the issue. We need to support people who are treating other people appropriately and we need to speak out and refuse to allow people who are treating people like garbage to continue to be allowed to treat people like garbage. Bottom line, we can no longer ignore the public health emergency created by guns and we must act an enact sane gun laws. People have to wear seatbelts in cars but you can still drive. As I stated above, you need to be 21 years old to drink or buy alcohol, but this law has not prevented adults from using alcohol. Therefore, sane gun laws will not take away guns from everyone! We are a nation of intelligent people please start using your common sense regarding guns.
If we don’t start to address this public health issue, we are going to continue to have children and teenagers who have severe anxiety and depression disorders and suicide rates for children and teenagers will continue to increase. By not controlling guns, mass shootings and the other violence, such as hate crimes, we are expecting children to grow up in a very scary, unpredictable world. Anxiety and depression are the sane responses. Are we going to allow mass shootings to continue or are we going to enact sane gun laws and provide children with a safe place where they can grow up? We owe it to the children.
Dr. Rubino has 25 years experience as a psychotherapist working with children and teenagers. For more information about his work or private practice visit his website at www.RubinoCounseling.com or his Facebook page www.Facebook.com/drrubino3.