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Tuesday November 21, 2017
Posted: Oct 06, 2015

Gun violence should be examined as a public health issue

College Connection

With just a few days having passed since the Umpqua Community College shootings, where nine people lost their lives and even more suffering severe injuries, one of the most disturbing reports of the incident was that the dead victims cellphones were ringing when police arrived on the scene, as their families and friends tried to make contact with them. The heartbreak for this community is palpable, and working in academia, many of us feel this sort of event more deeply as we once again question the safety of our own campuses and classrooms.

For now we are hearing preliminary reports out of Oregon that the shooter attended a high school catering to troubled and special needs students, and that his final letter for investigators indicated that he was angry and depressed. However, he had been involved in a number of on-campus activities and was a valued student in the UCC Theater Arts Department.

What we don’t know yet is the shooter’s actual mental health diagnosis nor his treatment plan. The unknowns leave us much to ponder, but there are steps we can begin to take from a public health perspective.

The American Public Health Association has made clear statements that gun violence is preventable. The association recognizes that gun violence is contagious and has become an epidemic in the U.S. The association recommends that we:

• Use surveillance techniques to track gun-related deaths and injurious shootings.
• Focus on identifying the many risk factors for gun violence.
• Create, implement, and evaluate interventions that reduce these risk factors and support resilience for those who are suffering.
• Institutionalize prevention strategies.

We also clearly need more research in this area; we need to examine what commonsense gun policies might look like, what have other countries implemented, what worked for them, and what has not worked for them.

Access to mental health services needs to be expanded. In a rural state like Maine, we need to be able to reach those who are in need, but don’t have access to adequate mental health evaluations and interventions. How can we better identify those in need of care and support their care and healing processes?

Our schools need to be provided with the proper resources to become places of community-based prevention. Early identification and intervention strategies need to be promoted and trainings provided for all educators from pre-K to college. We need training in our communities and in our schools on what to do in emergent situations, but also how to identify those at-risk for gun violence as early as possible.

The American Public Health Association supports the development of school-wide programs that address bullying, violence, anger, and the more difficult-to-address issues dealing with social and mental health factors. Until programs such as this are developed, implemented, and evaluated, we will continue to be brought the devastating news of unanswered cellphones ringing on the bodies of the victims of gun violence.

 

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