Tag Archives: gun violence prevention

What is One Simple Thing You Can Do to Prevent Gun Violence at School? Say Something



By Julia Mancini (Intern, APA Office on Children, Youth and Families)


It is crucial for schools to be supportive environments for youth learning and growth. Too often, they become places of violence and fear. Nationwide, it has been found that 6% of children do not go to school at least once a month because they fear for their own safety at or on their way to school1. This shows that this place that should foster healthy development can be a source of traumatic experiences. Further, violent and toxic school environments are all too common and hinder educational, social and personal development. School should be a place where children can express themselves and be comfortable reaching their maximum potential.

On December 14th, 2012, 20 first graders and 6 educators were shot and killed at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. This tragedy has been central to many of the conversations surrounding gun violence in schools and hits close to home for many.

Research has shown that when it comes to violence, suicide and threats, most are known by at least one other individual before the incident takes place.


Imagine how much tragedy could be averted if these individuals said something?

Say Something Week raises much needed awareness and educates the community, students, and educators through media events, advertising, public proclamations, contests, and school awards. It provides the confidence and tools to create a safer and healthier school environment. It is important to create positive dialogue around school safety in order to be proactive against community violence and fear.

Say Something Week empowers children to help others and prevent tragedies. They are taught to ‘Say Something’ to a trusted adult to prevent a friend from harming themselves or others. This programing has the potential to save lives in the communities it reaches. Though it is a daunting task to ensure that no student ever has to go to school in fear, campaigns such as Say Something Week can work with schools and youth programs to maximize their safety, learning, and potential.


What is Say Something Week?

While there is no simple solution to this problem, Striving to Prevent Youth Violence Everywhere (STRYVE) and Sandy Hook Promise are partnering to implement the Second Annual Say Something Week.

STRYVE is a multi-sector consortium of organizations that work nationally to support local youth violence prevention efforts in states and communities. Sandy Hook Promise (SHP) is a national, nonprofit organization based in Newtown, Connecticut. They are led by several family members whose loved ones were killed in the tragic mass shooting. SHP is focused on preventing gun violence (and other forms of violence and victimization) before it happens by educating and mobilizing youth and adults on mental health and wellness programs that identify, intervene and help at-risk individuals. Their goal is to honor all victims of gun violence by turning their tragedy into a moment of transformation.


How can you be a part of this?

Consider joining Sandy Hook Promise, the American Psychological Association, and thousands of other school and youth organizations for the second annual Say Something Week from October 16-20th.  To sign up, visit: http://www.sandyhookpromise.org/saysomethingweek



1 School Violence: Data and Statistics . (2017, August 22). Retrieved October 10, 2017, from https://www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention/youthviolence/schoolviolence/data_stats.html



Julia Mancini is currently a junior Psychology and Criminal Justice double major at George Washington University. Julia has a particular interest in children and families and is excited to be interning with the Children, Youth and Families office this fall. Julia has been involved with behavioral genetic research through The Boston University Twin Project. She also worked as a Clinical Research Intern at Safe Shores, DC’s Children’s Advocacy Center, investigating disparities in PTSD presentations among minority youth. This past summer Julia interned for the Child Protection Unit in the District Attorney’s office in her home state of Massachusetts. She also had the opportunity to work internationally with a non-profit in Cochabamba, Bolivia that provides psychological, legal, and social services to child survivors of sexual violence.

Filed under: Children and Youth, Violence Tagged: #STRYVE, children's mental health, gun violence, gun violence prevention, Say Something Week, school safety, school shootings, suicide prevention, teen suicide, youth violence

Are You Talking to Parents About Keeping Guns Away from Children? 5 Reasons You Absolutely Should

A small child staring at a hand gun within reach on a table

By Clinton W. Anderson, PhD (Interim Executive Director, Public Interest Directorate, American Psychological Association)

Psychologists are recognized as having important knowledge about psychological health and development. That is why parents routinely seek our advice on a wide range of issues affecting their children’s well-being. However, protecting children from gun violence is a rarely broached topic. June 21 is National ASK (Asking Saves Kids) Day. Launched in 2000 by the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence and the American Academy of Pediatrics, the ASK campaign reminds health professionals, parents, and caregivers of the importance of asking if there are unlocked guns in the homes where children live and play.


Once this question is asked, a frank discussion about protecting children from the dangers of gun violence can begin. Although the conversation may be awkward, having it could potentially save their child’s life. And yes, psychologists and other health professionals are well within their rights to do so. A federal appeals court in Florida recently ruled that state laws prohibiting doctor-patient discussions of guns violated the First Amendment. In fact, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that doctors and nurses address firearm safety as part of their routine guidance with patients and parents.  As psychologists, we have extensive education and training that equip us to understand and communicate the dangers of guns in the home. Regardless of our areas of expertise or professional setting, we have a vital role to play.

Here’s why:

1. Firearm safety is a public health issue:

Gun violence has leached into every aspect of our American way of life. It occurs in every setting whether Americans are at work, at play, at worship, at school, or at home. Our efforts to prevent gun violence need to be informed by the best evidence.

2. Children often have far too easy access to guns:

Parents should be aware that guns are like Christmas presents – kids will find them no matter how well hidden they are. Many parents have unrealistic expectations about their kids’ behavior toward guns. High-quality research shows that training kids to stay away from or not handle guns does not work. We must communicate to parents that the best preventive measure against gun injury or death among children is removing guns from the household entirely.

3. Developmental factors contribute to risk of gun violence for children:

Many parents are unaware of the developmental factors that make keeping firearms in the home risky for children. For instance, they underestimate the inquisitiveness of young children who are primed to explore and test boundaries. Many don’t even realize that 2- or 3-year-olds possess the strength to pull a gun’s trigger. Similarly, during the teen years, traits like impulsivity, a sense of invulnerability, and temporary but intense feelings of despondency contribute to risk of firearm use. Some experts counsel that it is best not to have guns at all in a home with teenagers. Psychologists and other health professionals can help parents understand these risk factors.

4. Children with behavioral problems are at greater risk:

Parents with children showing behavioral health problems should consider that these problems may elevate risk of harm when there are accessible firearms in the home.  If they have children or teens with mood disorders, substance abuse (including alcohol), or a history of suicide attempts, encourage them to remove or restrict access to firearms. Arrange for the adult to talk to a psychologist or pediatrician if questions persist.

5. If guns are in the home, they should be treated like all other household dangers:

We routinely tell parents to take precautions to make their homes as safe as possible for their children. We tell them to keep household cleaners, prescription medicines, and even alcohol and cigarettes out of their children’s reach. Households and families with firearms should treat guns the same way.

  • Encourage parents to store all firearms at another location – alternate storage options include:
    • at another licensed gun owner’s home
    • in a secure storage unit
    • in a bonded warehouse for gun storage
  • If adults insist on keeping firearms in the home, emphasize that it is critical to store guns unloaded, in a securely locked location, and with ammunition stored in a separate locked container. One caveat: although locked storage provides some protection, parents should know that it may not prove effective against children’s creativity, curiosity, and persistence.
  • If their child will be spending time in another family’s home, advise parents to ASK whether there are guns in the home, and if so, how they are stored before sending their child over to play.

We all have a responsibility to reduce the risk of gun violence in America, particularly for our youngest citizens. It starts with you:



I would like to thank Susan Sorenson, PhD, (Director, Evelyn Jacobs Ortner Center on Family Violence), and W. Rodney Hammond, PhD, (retired Director of the Division of Violence Prevention, National Center for Injury Prevention and Control) for sharing their input and expertise for this blog post.


Image source: iStockPhoto

Filed under: Children and Youth, Health and Wellness, Violence Tagged: accidental death, ASK day, children's health, children's mental health, firearm safety, firearm violence, gun safety, gun violence, gun violence prevention, homicide, parenting, parenting tips, public health, suicide

Firearm Violence Prevention is a Human Rights Issue

Disarm HateBy Susan H. McDaniel, PhD (APA President) and Cynthia D. Belar, PhD (APA Interim CEO)

June 28 is the anniversary of the Stonewall riots, which launched lesbian and gay rights as a mass movement and is commemorated in the LGBT Pride celebrations. We take this occasion to reaffirm the American Psychological Association’s commitment to removing the social stigma that sexual and gender minorities still experience both here in the U.S. and around the world. We’ve come a long way since the days when mainstream psychology contributed to the oppression of sexual and gender minorities as mentally ill. However, prejudice and discrimination still exist today even within psychology. There are individuals and organizations in the U.S. and many other places promoting the unscientific idea that sexual orientation and gender identity are choices that can or should be changed.

This month’s shootings in Orlando were horrific, but sadly they weren’t a radical aberration. Violence directed at lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people remains widespread and frequent. A recent New York Times analysis of FBI hate crimes data indicated that such crimes against sexual minorities were the highest per capita of any group tracked. Internationally, violence against sexual and gender minorities, can be even more brutal. In South Africa where human rights of LGBT people are enshrined in the constitution, “corrective rape” of lesbians still occurs. In the Middle East, ISIS has thrown gay men from rooftops. The U.N. has called for its members to act urgently to end such violence and discrimination.

Violence and discrimination are not based solely on one set of prejudices; members of the LGBT community face prejudice for multiple reasons. As we have learned more information about the victims of the shootings in Orlando, it has become clear that most were people of color and predominantly Latino. We also know that transgender women of color are the majority of LGBT hate crime homicides. People of color and the LGBT community continue to experience discrimination, and their risk of victimization is compounded when their identities intersect across multiple stigmatized groups.

When governments, including the U.S., codify discrimination, they help to promote and maintain stigma and prejudice. Hundreds of laws targeted at LGBT people have been introduced in our state legislatures in the past three years and some have passed. Draconian new laws targeting LGBT people and their allies were adopted in Uganda and Nigeria in recent years. In much of the Middle East and South Asia, legal penalties for homosexuality range from 14 years’ imprisonment to death. Russia has even criminalized speech that supports the rights of sexual or gender minorities.

Action is needed to end all discrimination and violence, public and private. Legal protections matter. Research has found that LGBT people living in places with protective and supportive laws are healthier than those in places with fewer legal protections. APA is proud to join with civil and human rights groups to promote U.S. policies that prohibit unfair discrimination of all kinds, including on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. The LGBT movement has had remarkable successes – such as marriage equality – due to its commitment and creativity. It is important for us all to keep that in mind and to call upon the strengths that the LGBT community and its allies have built as we move forward.

The shootings in Orlando, as the work of a lone gunman, will not ultimately harm the movement for LGBT rights, but they do make painfully clear how firearm violence is a human rights issue. Firearm violence affects us all – and especially those targeted by hate. Out of this tragic event an opportunity can be seen for all groups to come together—including LGBT people, people of color, and their allies, along with violence prevention advocates—to achieve legislative and cultural change to prevent any further needless deaths and injuries due to gun violence.

Filed under: Human Rights and Social Justice, LGBT Issues, Violence Tagged: discrimination, firearm violence, gun violence, gun violence prevention, hate, hate crime, human rights, LGBT, LGBT Pride Month, LGBT rights, Orlando shootings, prejudice, violence prevention

[RE-POST] #WearOrange: The One Simple Thing You Can Do to Address Gun Violence


To honor the victims of gun violence, we’re reposting last year’s blog about National Gun Violence Awareness Day. Recent data show that violent dates rates in the U.S. remain high (7 times higher than other high-income countries), especially in comparison to other high-income countries.[i] When looking at gun homicides specifically, the rate is more than 25 times higher than other countries.

Many of our members dedicate their lives to understanding the prevention and prediction of violence, and to alleviating the burden of these traumatic events. Too many Americans live with the trauma of losing a loved one to gun violence. We can do better.

[i] Grinshteyn, E., & Hemenway, D. (2010). Violent Death Rates: The US Compared with Other High-income OECD Countries, 2010. The American Journal of Medicine, Volume 129, Issue 3, 266 – 273.



By Amalia Corby-Edwards, MS (Senior Legislative and Federal Affairs Officer, APA Public Interest Directorate)

June 2nd marks the second annual observance of National Gun Violence Awareness Day, also known as “Wear Orange Day”.

The financial cost of gun violence in the United States was an estimated $229 billion in 2012; this amount does not account for the psychological toll on those directly or indirectly affected by firearm violence–those who witness or fear firearm violence in their homes or communities or who are left behind when a loved one dies by suicide.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC):

  • In 2013, there were 33,636 firearm deaths in the U.S. and more than 84,000 non-fatal firearm injuries.
  • Firearms are involved in more than half of suicides and more than 2/3 of homicides in the United States.
  • There are more than 30,000 firearm fatalities each year in the United States and more than 80,000 non-fatal injuries requiring emergency medical care or hospitalization.

As outlined in our 2013 report, Gun Violence: Prediction, Prevention, and Policy, APA supports a public health approach to gun violence prevention and works with violence prevention allies to support federal research, training, and services.

In the past year, these efforts have included:

We must learn more about how to use this knowledge to evaluate and promote preventive interventions. Otherwise we will never succeed in reducing the tragic harm from firearm violence that we have seen occur in recent mass shootings, and in daily unpublicized incidents of gang shootings, intimate partner violence, impulsive suicide, and accidental shootings.

So, join us. Take the pledge to wear orange and get loud about gun violence.


Filed under: Violence Tagged: #WearOrange, gun violence, gun violence prevention, gun violence report, National Gun Violence Awareness Day, violence prevention, Wear Orange Day

“Don’t Believe the Hype”: 4 Reasons to Doubt That Most Mass Shooters are Mentally Ill


By Joel Dvoskin, PhD, ABPP (Chair, Nevada Behavioral Health and Wellness Council)

Too often, even the most well-intentioned among us believe that most mass shootings are carried out by those with untreated mental illness. As a forensic and clinical psychologist with extensive experience treating individuals with serious mental illness, and as a member of APA’s Policy Review Task Force on the Prediction and Prevention of Gun Violence, I believe this to be unfounded and incorrect for the following four reasons:


1. We often base our belief that mental illness is a characteristic of mass shooters on retrospective or circular logic.

In other words, people say, “You’d have to be crazy (sic) to do something like that.” Further, in the aftermath of a heinous crime, even minor quirks and eccentricities are often incorrectly labeled as evidence of mental illness through the stigmatizing lens of retrospective analysis.


2. Many mass shootings are connected to organized crime and many others are connected to domestic violence.

Even though many of us believe that one would have to have a personality disorder to be in a criminal gang, that myth ignores the sad truth that in some parts of America, joining a gang is a survival tactic for adolescents. And sadly in the case of domestic violence, which is all too common, it can become fatal when a firearm is used.


3. Our media tends to overhype mass shootings committed by individuals who appear to be mentally ill.

There is typically saturation publicity when a mass homicide appears to have been committed by someone with psychiatric problems, leading the public (and, sadly, many mental health professionals) to overgeneralize from these few vivid cases. Professor Michael Perlin has referred to this as “the vividness heuristic.” And make no mistake of it; vividness and extreme statements sell TV advertising much more successfully than truthful reporting of the news.


4. Crisis is the culprit, not mental illness.

I have studied many of these seemingly irrational mass homicides, and in my opinion, many of them are perpetrated by people without serious mental illnesses (the way that term is appropriately used). What the perpetrators seem to have in common is the experience of extreme situational crisis. This often includes rage and despair, sometimes fueled by alcohol or stimulants. For more information on this, see APA’s Resolution on Firearm Violence Research and Prevention. While a situational emotional crisis could be characterized as an adjustment disorder or acute depression, terms such as “serious mental illness,” “the mentally ill”, etc. typically refer to people with serious and persistent emotional and cognitive conditions that have pervasively made their lives more difficult over time. Referring to situational crises as evidence linking mental illness to mass homicide is, once again, circular reasoning that creates misleading discourse.


Strengthening the public mental health system will help those in crisis

Most perpetrators of random mass shootings either commit suicide, manage to get killed by police, or spend the rest of their lives locked up. In any case, they have given up on life as they know it. Thus, it is useful to understand that mass shootings, in addition to being homicides, are typically acts of suicide or its metaphorical equivalent.

While it is virtually impossible to know which of the millions of people in emotional crisis will commit acts of murder and suicide, we do know how to prevent suicides. By using simple public health approaches to suicide prevention, American jails have managed to dramatically reduce the number of jail suicides. (Read anything by Lindsay Hayes of the National Center for Institutions and Alternatives for data on this).

I have spoken often over the past few years about ways in which the public mental health system can and must help to prevent mass homicides. This is not because of its important role in treating persons with serious mental illness. Rather I see the public mental health system as equivalent to other first responders such as Fire and Rescue, Police, and EMT’s. And like those vital services, mental health care should receive adequate funding to provide timely and competent services to people in extreme crisis and despair, whether or not they happen to have a psychiatric diagnosis.

Crisis workers need to be adequately compensated and trained in enough numbers to respond to crises with skill and speed. The U.S. public mental health system has been ravaged by budget cuts, to the tune of tens of billions of dollars, during the past 15 years. If America would meaningfully invest in suicide prevention, I believe that we would prevent some mass homicides.


Policy changes and funding can help

Violence and its origins are currently at the forefront of political debate in the U.S. It’s heartening to see and take part in the robust national dialogue about mental illness, violence, and criminal justice that is happening at the federal level. Congress is working on legislation to overhaul both the public mental health system and the criminal justice system. APA supports their efforts to ensure that individuals with serious mental illness get access to care. We also are encouraged by the push to provide federal funding for research into the causes and prevention of violence without unnecessary restrictions.

Helping people in emotional crisis can not only prevent suicide and mass homicides. It can prevent deeper involvement in the criminal justice system as well. APA strongly supports diversion from deeper levels of justice system involvement, when public safety allows, so that individuals with mental illness can obtain the care they need. Law enforcement officers who serve on crisis intervention teams can divert individuals pre-arrest and connect them with public mental health resources. Diversion also allows criminal justice agencies to focus on those individuals for whom jail time is deemed necessary.

Emotional crises are an equal opportunity phenomenon. They can happen to anyone experiencing enough distress whether or not they have a serious mental illness. The public mental health system should be able to help them see a less horrifying way to alleviate their psychological pain.

For more information on preventing gun violence, read APA’s seminal report – Gun Violence: Prevention, Prediction and Policy.



Joel Dvoskin, PhD is a clinical psychologist, licensed in the State of Arizona since 1981 and the State of New Mexico since 2005.  He is a Diplomate in Forensic Psychology of the American Board of Professional Psychology, a Fellow of the American Psychological Association (APA) and the American Psychology-Law Society.  Dr. Dvoskin is past President of Division 18 of the American Psychological Association, Psychologists in Public Service, (2000-2001), past President of the American Psychology-Law Society, Division 41 of the APA. He is the former Acting Commissioner of Mental Health for the State of NY and the former Chair of the (Nevada) Governor’s Advisory Council on Behavioral Health and Wellness. Dr. Dvoskin holds a Certificate of Professional Qualification in Psychology from the Association of State and Provincial Psychology Boards. He is also author of numerous articles and chapters in professional journals and texts, including a number of articles that deal with treatment of persons with serious mental illness and co-occurring substance use disorders.  He has been qualified as an expert witness on these and related issues in numerous state and federal courts throughout the United States. Dr. Dvoskin also served as a member of APA’s Policy Review Task Force on the Prediction and Prevention of Gun Violence.

Image source: iStockPhoto.com

Filed under: Public Policy, Violence Tagged: emotional crisis, gun violence, gun violence prevention, mass shootings, mental health system, mental illness, serious mental illness, suicide prevention, violence prevention