Gun Violence–Why the U.S.?

By Melanie Holland, CEI Intern.

“Our levels of gun violence are off the charts. There’s no advanced developed country on earth that would put up with this.” ‘“President Obama, when asked about the most recent school shooting in Troutdale, OR.

Graph 1
With three school shooting in the last 20 days, students and teachers are feeling less safe in their schools, and people are beginning to ask’”’Why U.S.?’ and ‘Why us?’ The number of incidents in the U.S. from 2000-2010 was only one less than in 36 countries combined, as seen in Graph 1. In 13 of the listed countries, there were zero incidents, either actual or attempted. As a note for comparison’”as of 2010, the U.S. had a population of 309 million, with the combined population of the listed countries totaling 3.8 billion.

These numbers lead again to the question’”why the United States? At this point, it is almost impossible to isolate the cause of school violence, or presume that there is one clear cause. Nonetheless, two aspects of our communities and schools need to be evaluated’”mental illness and gun prevalence.

Mental illness is extremely stigmatized in the U.S. and our schools may not have the satisfactory tools to identify illness in youth or create educational plans for youth with mental illness. Most serious incidences of psychosis or schizophrenia occur in the early 20s, with early warning signs that can easily be dismissed as ‘teenage angst.’ While many of these individuals probably attended compassionate schools that supported them as best they could, they likely did not receive the social and emotional supports needed to make them feel comfortable in their own skin, let alone identify or deal with their illness. It is much more likely that we are doing a worse job of identifying youth with mental illness than the possibility that we have higher rates of mental illness than other countries.

Graph 2

Graph 2

The number of guns per capita in the U.S. is higher than that in any other country in the world. The U.S. has 89 guns for every 100 people; the average number of guns per capita for the 30 countries included in our first graph is 30-35 guns for every 100 people. While access to a gun does not cause school violence, it is hard to argue with data, like that in Graph 2, that speaks to the correlation between the availability of guns and violence. For example, China has the next second-greatest number of incidents with 10 mass school killings since 2000, but none involved firearms. The relationship between gun availability and school violence is a multi-faceted issue that needs to be deeply analyzed.

It is hard to know if our learning communities are more or less compassionate than those in other countries. But in the wake of so many tragedies around our nation, it is clear that our communities and schools need to focus on how to create more compassionate environments for students who feel isolated, alienated, or angry. There is no simple tweak or fix that will bring peace to our schools. But, creating a vision for a different way of doing business, listening deeply, having empathy, and helping build self-confidence and self-esteem is an impactful first step.

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