UI professor a co-author of call for nationwide effort to address shootings

As it did after the 2007 Virginia Tech shooting, a national violence-prevention research group — including a University of Illinois professor — is calling for a renewed nationwide effort to address mass shootings.

The statement from the Interdisciplinary Group on Preventing School and Community Violence, made up of university researchers from across the country, addresses the need for more mental health services and improved threat assessment, beefs up the 2006 language on gun control and discusses how media violence leads to aggressive behavior.

"This group wanted to make sure we were very explicit this time around, that there has to be a plan at the national level to address mental health access, to address gun control," to address the impact of violent media on certain individuals and to "think really seriously about threat assessment," said University of Illinois educational psychology Professor Dorothy Espelage, one of nine co-authors of the "Connecticut School Shooting Position Statement."

Espelage said the authors began working on it immediately after Friday's shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn.

Espelage said a similar furor followed the shooting at Virginia Tech, when 35 people died, but it later subsided.

She said the response this time feels different, in part because of social media exposure, with more than 100 organizations representing 4 million professionals quickly signing on.

She said political leaders of both parties appear to see the need for a balanced policy approach incorporating both gun control and better mental health services, as the organization demands.

Espelage, an expert on bullying and youth aggression, quoted statistics showing 47 percent of families own a gun.

"How many parents actually know that 2 million kids have access to guns in their homes?" she asked.

The position statement said research has demonstrated a "clear connection between local availability of guns and gun-related violent behaviors."

"Although guns are never the simple cause of a violent act, the availability of lethal weapons including assault type weapons to youth and adults with emotional disturbance and antisocial behavior poses a serious public health problem. Our political leaders need to find a reasonable and constitutional way to limit the widespread availability of guns to persons who are unwilling or unable to use them in a responsible, lawful manner," it said.

As for media violence, the group said research shows repeated exposure through television, movies or video games can increase aggressive behavior and emotions in youths. It can displace healthy activities, model inappropriate behaviors, desensitize youths to the harmful effects of violence and lead to "a constellation" of risk-taking behaviors, the group said.

The group said it's too soon to draw conclusions about the Sandy Hook case but cited two key factors in every mass shooting: severe mental illness and an "intense interpersonal conflict that the person could not resolve or tolerate."

Simply intensifying security in schools isn't the answer, it said.

"We cannot and should not turn our schools into fortresses. Effective prevention cannot wait until there is a gunman in a school parking lot."

Profiling or checklists are also ineffective ways to predict trouble, it said, and often lead to innocent people who aren't a threat being falsely accused.

Rather, every school and community should have adequate mental health support and threat assessment teams, "so that people can seek assistance when they recognize that someone is troubled and requires help," it said.

That means community services should be integrated across mental health agencies, law enforcement agencies, schools and other stakeholders.

Schools also need programs to support students' social, emotional, and behavioral needs, it said.

Comprehensive analyses by the Secret Service, Federal Bureau of Investigation and numerous researchers have concluded that the most effective way to prevent many acts of violence targeted at schools is to maintain close communication and trust with students and others in the community, the statement said.

Schools and communities have to work against the stigma against "tattling" on friends or loved ones who threaten violence or show other disturbing behaviors by establishing clear, "user friendly" communication channels, it said.

"(T)heir lives or the lives of their friends might depend on seeking help for troubled individuals before problems escalate," it said.

Just as local neighborhoods are safer when neighbors look out for one another, students need to feel that "they belong at their school and that others care for them."

"Research indicates that those students most at risk for delinquency and violence are often those who are most alienated from the school community," it said.

On the Web:

Here's a link to the statement: http://curry.virginia.edu/articles/sandyhookshooting

Editor's note: An earlier version of this story had the wrong year for the Virginia Tech shooting.

Comments

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Citizen1 wrote on December 20, 2012 at 10:12 am

Dear Miss Goodie-Two-Shoes,

Put mental health people in every school?  Great Idea.  It will not happen.  Our schools are broke.  The State of Illinois withholds tax revenue from them and Quinn wants property tax payers to pay even more in the form of teacher pensions.  The additional revenue for pensions will go to FORMER teachers who have retired.  This does not help current students in our schools now. 

Our schools aren't doing a good job of teaching the basics.  We fall below even our low standands and fail when compared to the world.  All of your feel good ideas will not help students feel better about themselves when they consider themselves and are judged by society to be failures by the age of twenty.  All of these students would feel better about themselves if they had basic skills and education to find and succeed in jobs.

Most of the current solutions to violence focus on gun control.  How about parent control?  I can't find one article complaining about the irresponsible parent of the shooter who knowingly left guns unlocked in a home with a mentally ill young person.  How about control of disturbed young people?  It seems there must have been many in school, in dr. offices, in other activities who knew this young person needed help.  Any balanced conversation must deal with the reality of the many people who failed.  Place blame there.

americanproud wrote on December 20, 2012 at 12:12 pm

Excellent post, Citizen1.  You took the words right out of my mouth. 

Alexander wrote on December 20, 2012 at 12:12 pm

Citizen1: Notice that she cites research in the topic. You come out with hateful comments backed up by nothing but your feelings, presumably since she likes the idea of gun control. At least admit your real motivation.

Sid Saltfork wrote on December 20, 2012 at 12:12 pm

Come on, Alexander..  Your being logical, and reasonable.  The word "shooting" like the words "gun", and "control" draws them out like flies on sugar.  Gun sales have soared since last Friday.  Every time there is a mass murder of innocents; gun sales soar, and the gun nuts come out with hateful comments.  They don't let logic, reason, or research get in their way when rushing to hate.  Having something to hate is motivating for them. 

americanproud wrote on December 20, 2012 at 8:12 pm

What did Citizen1 say that was hateful, Alexander and Sid?  I've read and re-read the post, and I see nothing hateful.  Just because someone's opinion differs from yours....why does that equal hate?  I wish we could have disagreements in this world without one of the parties automatically being called a hater if they have a different opinion. 

Bulldogmojo wrote on December 20, 2012 at 8:12 pm

I think we may actually be on the right track this time to curtailing a great deal of these outbursts of psychosis and terrorism but we are going to have to keep the channels of communication open and not supress any one view if we are going to tackle this. It might be an ugly scab to pick off but we are going to have to reeavaluate our attitudes about what constitutes a sporting weapon and what defines a weapon of mass destruction. We can start by having a program where people who own guns, myself included, have to report to law inforcement every so often with their weapons to prove they are in possession of the actual guns registered in their name. Just like getting your car sticker every year. We also need to require a gun safety class certification for a FOID card with a federal standard.

We do need to address mental health care in this country. Just the number of veterans who get lost through the cracks of the system alone should prompt us into action. This country is becoming divided into the have and have nots and that is in regard to not only money but access to health care and education. This is a country out of balance and the inherent fear everyone is experiencing right now enhanced by the sadness and powerlessness we feel when any of us sees a child harmed cannot be allowed to deter us from our humanity. We can solve these issues.