The School Counselor’s Role in Preventing Gun Violence

***Update: I originally wrote this blog post following a mass shooting when I was feeling particularly fed up (for lack of better words) but was hesitant to post because of the sensitive nature. I cannot even remember which event had just occurred (and that really bothers me – too many to distinguish in my mind), but I have finally gotten my thoughts in order to post this because it’s too important to ignore!***

We can’t seem to escape it. Every time I turn on the news, I’m hearing about another form of gun violence. I want to be clear: this is not a post on gun laws, and I do not want to entertain that discussion. This is a post to discuss the findings from the APA’s report on preventing gun violence (and as a side note, 4/5 of their findings don’t even address gun laws).

Here’s why: one’s propensity for gun violence is affected by multiple factors, including the interaction of family, school, individual, peer, sociocultural, and community factors. What does that mean? The things that happen to you and the experiences you have throughout your lifetime influence your tendency toward gun violence. In addition to this finding, behavioral threat assessments are the most effective approach to preventing gun violence, according to the APA. So who does a behavioral threat assessment? Well, it depends on your district and procedures in place. It could be your School Psychologist, School Social Worker, another member of your crisis team, or it could be you. Find out now before an assessment is deemed necessary (by a student or group of students making statements or engaging in behaviors that suggest thoughts about committing an act of violence).

So, a person has experiences and circumstances that could lead him or her toward a propensity for gun violence – what do we as Professional School Counselors do about it? Primary and secondary prevention programs are necessary to address the emotional needs and interpersonal conflicts BEFORE these circumstances escalate toward any type of violence. As Professional School Counselors, what are the primary and secondary prevention programs we can use to create change and lower than propensity toward gun violence?

  1. Meaningful classroom guidance lesson focusing on peer relationships, empathy, problem-solving, etc.
  2. Peer mediation programs
  3. Non-violent conflict resolution training programs
  4. Small group counseling programs for students with low self-esteem
  5. Small group counseling programs for students needing extra support developing social skills
  6. Peer tutor programs to promote social awareness and community bonds within the school
  7. Community volunteer mentorship programs 
  8. Individual counseling
  9. Career development programs to promote a future-focus, just to name a few..

And these are just the programs that can be implemented within the school walls! Depending on the school districts, students and families can be linked with district social workers to obtain necessary services outside of the school (local and federal aid programs, appropriate health care, housing needs, etc.). Implementing programs that positively engage the community and families (such as health fairs, family fun days, etc.) can also create a cohesive union while linking high-risk families with much needed resources.

Our profession as a whole recognizes the role of the Professional School Counselor as advocate. We have the huge responsibility and privilege of being the voice for those who may not have a voice. Getting in the classroom, getting to know the students as people not problems, and working tirelessly to get the students what they need to be successful academically, socially, and emotionally (whether providing direct services or referring to appropriate agencies and providers when outside of scope of practice) is our professional responsibility to do our part to end gun violence. We are not the “end all be all” solution, but we can do our part. Isn’t it worth it?

You can read the entire report from the APA here or a brief summary here.

I’d love to hear from you about what you’re doing in your school counseling program to directly address this issue!

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