Gun Violence & Childhood Trauma
Last week my son’s school was locked down twice due to threats of gun violence. Each threat turned out to be groundless. The fear created, though, was very real. Students walked out of classrooms only to be ordered back inside by police officers. Lunchtime the next day was spent sheltering in place. Friday, 800 students, including my son and most of my friends’ kids, stayed home. Robo-calls about threats, high alert, and greater police presence on campus played a key role in that decision. We agree that we can’t live like this, so where are the solutions?
Gov. Martinez’s policy focus assumes that gun violence is inevitable. Government’s role under this governor is aimed at enforcing laws that address violence after it happens. Most gun violence related incidents involve perpetrators who are acting out a lifetime of accumulated trauma. They plan to kill themselves or have no concept of what might happen afterward. Damage, anger, and an intense focus on the need to commit the act are all they think about.
Efforts to decrease gun violence must include prevention. The roots of these acts are often accumulated trauma through Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs). Many New Mexican children have multiple ACEs by the time they reach high school. Poverty, physical and emotional abuse, abandonment, domestic violence—each experience damages the growing mind. Research shows the more trauma a person accumulates without intervention results in poor physical and mental health and lower emotional stability. Add a gun to the mix and you have increased suicide rates, domestic violence cases, and child abuse.
New Mexico can invest in preventing gun violence by placing more counselors in schools that are trained in trauma-based therapy models. Intervention programs must be linked closely with communities and placed in close physical proximity to those with the most need. Our low-income mental health system, destroyed by Gov. Martinez, must be rebuilt. Early childhood education can provide structure and early identification of ACEs in children’s lives. Compassion, education, and intervention—not punishment—will reduce gun violence in our communities.