In wake of the horrific Dec. 14 Sandy Hook Elementary school shooting and an alarming fre- quency of such mass murders over the past year, issues like gun control and mental health have been brought to the forefront of national discourse in recent months.
In order to help address these problems, two UCSB professors in the Department of Counseling, Clinical and School Psychology at UCSB’s Gevirtz Graduate School of Education recently helped develop a revised position state- ment that aims to provide preven- tative measures to decrease the risk of these types of incidents. The document, called the “Position Statement of the Interdisciplinary Group on Preventing School and Community Violence,” takes a look at subjects including men- tal health, threat assessment, gun access and importance of com- munication between policymakers and the public in order to better prevent on-school violence.
The two professors, Shane Jimerson and Michael Furlong, were among a group of nine school violence preven- tion researchers and practitioners from universities across the nation who co-authored the statement. According to Jimerson, in order to decrease the likelihood of events such as mass shootings, attention to mental health needs to be strengthened, and to do this, cuts in funding that limit the accessibility of mental health treatments and programs need to stop.
“If we want science to inform policy, we ought not to have legislation that systematically eliminates funding for science,” Jimerson said.
The revised position statement focuses on the issue of mental illness treatment as a key element in the prevention of mass violence after it was discovered that the perpetra- tor in the Sandy Hook shooting had been diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome — a form of autism.
Jimerson said the initial statement was released shortly after the Virginia Tech massacre and needed revision to address the current context, acknowledge the recent Sandy Hook tragedy and ensure that new information found since then would be applied to current policies before it is forgotten.
“We’ve written handbooks [in the past] of school violence and school safety that are collectives of empirical research,” Jimerson said. “[The Sandy Hook shootings] served as a cata- lyst to move forward … a lot of people are thinking about it now, but only for a limited time, and soon they’ll go back to not thinking about it because it doesn’t affect their daily life.”
Yesterday, in a public announcement, President Barack Obama advocated a plan to reform gun control policy. The proposal focused on four main points: law enforcement, the accessibility of firearms and ammunition, school safety and mental health.
Obama recommended over 23 executive actions to poten- tially minimize gun violence, including increase of federal aid to states for hiring safety professionals, requiring criminal background checks for gun sales and providing mental health treatment services in schools. For now, Obama’s proposal requires congressional approval, but the 23 executive actions will take immediate effect.
According to UCSB’s Koegel Autism Center clinical direc- tor Lynn Koegel, while mental health policies may be a part of the solution, they are not a guaranteed cure in avoiding violence in schools and communities. Koegel said many indi- viduals with autism exhibit antisocial behavior and are often bullied by their peers.
“One of the things that is important for people to under- stand is that there is no connection between violent behavior and autism or Asperger’s,” Koegel said in a video response. “That isn’t a symptom of behavior.”
A version of this article appeared on page 1 of January 17th, 2013’s print edition of the Nexus.