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National Gun Violence Awareness Day
The first Friday in June is recognized as National Gun Violence Awareness Day. Hundreds of cities around the country hosted events on Friday, June 7th to commemorate the fifth annual event. Also known as the #WearOrange day, the inaugural National Gun Violence Awareness Day occurred in 2015. The day was organized in part to memorialize the 2013 death of Hadiya Pendleton who was shot and killed in Chicago at the age of 15 - just one week after performing at President Obama's 2nd inaugural parade in 2013. After her death, her friends asked others to stand up, speak out, and Wear Orange to raise awareness about gun violence. Since then, orange has been the defining color in the gun violence movement.
Gun violence is ubiquitous in the United States. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) reports more than 30,000 firearm fatalities each year, and over 80,000 non-fatal firearm injuries. Firearms are involved in more than half of suicides and more than two-thirds of homicides in the United States. School shootings are equally terrifying. Last year, Education Week began tracking shootings on K-12 school property that resulted in firearm-related injuries or deaths. The most recent 2019 update reported 13 school shootings with injuries or deaths, which resulted in 2 people being killed and 20 injuries in various schools around the country. In many communities, gun violence is closely intertwined to our role as school psychologists as we work to support children and families who are impacted by the role of guns in our country.
I feel incredibly lucky to be a part of an association that speaks out against gun violence. In January of 2018, NASP adopted an official Resolution Supporting Efforts to Prevent Gun Violence. Recommendations from the resolution included (a) restricting the presence of guns in schools to only commissioned and trained school resource officers; (b) comprehensive background checks on all gun purchases; (c) bans on weapons that can cause mass destruction in a short period of time (e.g., fully automatic assault weapons); and (d) ensuring greater protection to keep guns out of the hands of individuals deemed at risk of harm to themselves and others. This statement and other NASP resources (see A Framework for Safe and Successful Schools) are excellent tools as we work with elected officials to change existing gun laws and improve school safety efforts in our own communities.
A number of states around the country have proposed, and in some cases, passed various legislation to begin to address gun violence and improve school safety. According to the National Conference of States Legislatures, the 2019 legislative session has so far seen 43 states propose 392 bills and resolutions related to school safety, enacting or adopting 87 of them. For example, Texas Governor Greg Abbott most recently signed a series of bills into law designed to improve school safety efforts and increase access to mental health services for children. This includes implementation of emergency operation plans, training teachers and School Resource officers on how to respond to crisis events, and establishing threat assessment teams to proactively respond to at-risk students. It is clear that elected officials are listening and now is the ideal time to be an advocate!
As school psychologists, it is important that we are committed to working with policy makers and colleagues to enact effective laws and policies that reduce gun violence and fatalities. If you haven't done so already, talk with colleagues in your district and/or your state association about how to address gun violence. Schedule meetings with your elected officials at the state and federal level to consider how current and future bills can address the need for common sense gun laws, as well as bills that will help address evidence-based school safety practices. This includes restricting guns on school campuses to commissioned and trained school resource officers and the use of multidisciplinary school safety teams to consider prevention and intervention response efforts. It is up to each of us to advocate on behalf of the students, colleagues, and schools we serve.