The website everytownresearch.org has attempted to draw conclusions from data on school and mass shootings.  From 2009 to 2015 there have been 133 mass shootings.  Only 4% occurred in schools.  Seventy-two percent of these mass shootings were perpetrated by persons ages 20-44.  Only 5% of shooters were teenagers or younger.  In 11% of cases, the shooters mental health had been raised prior to the shooting.  In 116 incidents where there was sufficient information to determine, 38% of shooters were prohibited from possessing firearms.    Additionally, there was a positive relationship between domestic violence and mass shootings in this study.  Among school shootings, over half of school shooters got their guns from home.    

One of the most recent school shootings with multiple victims happened in September of 2016. In October of 2016 a juvenile, Jesse Osborne, stands accused of shooting 3 at an elementary school in Townville, South Carolina.  One of those children has since died and charges are likely to change.  Jesse has also been charged in the shooting death of his father at their home, bringing the total number of victims to 4. 

Several things have been reported about the alleged shooter.  Prior to this, it is alleged that Jesse had been expelled from middle school for bringing weapons to school after being bullied and was being homeschooled.  It is also reported that his father had a history of domestic abuse although it may have occurred before Jesse was born.  Otherwise, early reports indicate that these alleged shootings would be out of character for Jesse who was described as a good kid and a straight A student with a good relationship with his parents.

Teachers and administrators at the Townville Elementary School were well trained for an active shooter incident and likely saved the lives of many of their students that early fall day. Emergency response personnel responded quickly and well with a firefighter stopping Jesse from firing his gun again.  There are lessons to be learned from this and other incidents about preventing the next school shooting.  These recommendations in no way are intended to criticize those responding to any school shooting because, unfortunately, authorities will learn more about how to prevent these events as each incident unfolds. 

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Source: Adobe Stock standard license

It is by studying these incidents, we will begin to understand and ultimately prevent them. Below are 9 recommendations gleaned from data on mass and school shootings

1.   While bullying is present in many schools, it needs to be stopped in every school when it occurs.  Youth that are bullied sometimes become the aggressor when they and their families do not receive adequate services.  The website has many good suggestions for working with your child’s school if your child has been bullied.

2.   Stopping domestic violence can prevent some mass shootings in the future.

3.  Children learn how to become adults by watching the adults around them and how they behave toward others.  Domestic violence sets a model for children on how to solve problems and relate to others.  Children should receive trauma counseling and skill building for anger management, problem solving, and interpersonal relationships if exposed to domestic violence and parents need therapy and law enforcement to stop domestic violence from negatively affecting children in the household

4.  If a child brings a weapon to school, this should be investigated and a risk assessment and treatment planning process begun.  Suspension or expulsion is never sufficient in cases such as this and an assessment should be required before the young person returns to school.  The article, Rethinking School Discipline, by the U.S. Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, provides some great ideas on looking for the roots of the problems youth face as a preventive measure before acting out behaviors become severe and dangerous. 

5.  Other warning signs that a teen boy may need an intervention to prevent behavior from getting worse include severe behavior problems before the age of 13, a deviant peer group, more than 3 prior assaults on others, lack of appropriate parental discipline (too harsh, too lax, or inconsistent), anger management problems, substance abuse and chronic school behavior problems.   Some of the warning signs for girls are different than those for boys and are not described here.  (See Tossey, Venable, Becker, and McIntyre, 2015.)

6. School counselors and child and adolescent mental health providers should be familiar with the warning signs of youth violence and refer teens for services right away.  The more warning signs there are, the more urgent that a youth is referred for behavioral health services.

7.  Schools need active shooter plans and drills.

8.   Parents should securely lock up their guns

9.  Enforcing laws around who can and cannot possess a firearm, might reduce the incidents of future mass shootings.

Following these 9 tips could help prevent the next school shooting.  Prevention is the key to safer schools and communities.

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