Letter To The Editor: The Hidden Answer To Limiting School Shootings


I walk into a classroom just about every day and lived both sides of the gun issue. Every day, I think if there will be a shooting at my school. I lived in rural New York for 28 years and thought nothing of having a loaded semi-automatic rifle lying next to me. It was normal to go out at night with a loaded rifle because I heard a noise.

When the police response is 40 minutes, people tend to protect themselves. In the 28 years I lived there, only two people were killed by gun violence that I recall. I also lived in areas where gun violence was so near that it made me understand why so many would want gun control.

Yet in light of so many school shootings, I think the real problems are being overrun by politics. Our politicians seem unwilling or helpless to do anything about the recent spike in school shootings. Regardless of where you fall on the issue, it’s likely that the country will be divided, but there seems to be one place we all agree. We need more mental health in schools.

My kids attend Sunset Elementary, and I like the school. I think the teachers and staff do a wonderful job, but they have one counselor to about 500 to 600 students. Though our counselor is excellent, it’s too much to ask of one professional. As a graduate student in clinical social work, I learned that people can be sloppy creatures, so identifying risk in individuals means closing this huge gap between professional and student. It can be even worse at middle schools and some high schools.

In light of my 16 years teaching as a college professor and my recent time in social work, I’d like to offer some pointers on reducing school shootings.

  • According to psychiatrist James Gilligan, a leading expert on violent crime and men, the most overlooked issue with our recent mass shooters is that almost all of them were sexually or relationship frustrated. They killed out of anger and humiliation. This is true with the shooting in Texas, true with the Florida nightclub shooting, true with Connecticut shooting, true with the Virginia Tech shooting, and so many others. Interestingly, the press has completely overlooked this. When it comes to sexuality, our culture has the habit of avoiding any discussion. This has to change.
  • Second, so many of these shooters displayed controlling behavior toward girls and women, I suggest, a clear read flag that they are capable of losing control. This behavior is often seen by several people. We have to learn to report it.
  • Third, the intense media coverage that follows these events can be a real motive for future shooters. They often feel humiliated and morally justify their actions because they feel the world turned against them. They know if they kill a lot, they will be on CNN and other media programs nonstop for a week. We learn everything about them. We see their faces everywhere. This adds fuel to the fire. For a very angry and humiliated person, or an antisocial one, they can use the media to get their fame and redemption much how ISIS used beheadings to get free advertisement for its cause. I suggest that the media not give out names and pictures or information on the shooters unless they are at large. People can find this information, but it should be more difficult.
  • If you have lived anywhere else, you know that people in the United States. are brutally individualistic to the point that many of our relationships suffer. In fact, some are calling loneliness an epidemic in the United States. We seem to be turning to dogs and away from each other. Add the luring of the internet and our concern about inappropriate touching at schools, and we have a recipe for disaster. Kids learn not to hug or show affection, not to hold hands, not to talk in school, and many are spending time on social media or on video games that show the worst in human nature. Kids face virtual bullying and school bullying, are humiliated, see excessive violence, have rigid rules at school and the list goes on. School is not just about grades and standardized tests; it should also include free social interaction and some guided and appropriate affection. We need to educate ourselves on how we talk, touch and listen to one another.

Anne Arundel County has taken an important step in identifying bullying as a public nuisance, and I understand the county is working on a plan; however, punishing kids has often proven to make matters only worse. The kids are humiliated, and humiliation, according to James Gilligan, is the No. 1 reason people commit crimes. The effectiveness of our criminal justice institutions only further prove this with an overall recidivism rate of nearly 70 percent.

In closing, I walked into a school recently and heard one young boy, who was in trouble, open up to a staff member about how his father treated him. The staff member said, “These are things you are telling me that I should not have to hear. You need to keep your personal problems to yourself.”

This is exactly what not to say. This boy, a kid in trouble for bullying, was opening up and trying to communicate. He was a tough kid showing vulnerability. He was told to shut up. It would not surprise me if this same kid does worse violence someday. If we want our kids to be safer and do better, we have to take mental health seriously and learn how to truly see and hear one another.

Earl Yarington
Graduate social work student, University at Buffalo
Associate professor at Prince George’s Community College


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