When it comes to preventing gun violence, schools are on the front lines. Guns are a common feature of American life, but they’re far from a natural one. They also represent a significant danger to children and adults alike. According to Everytown for Gun Safety, between 2013 and 2017 there were almost 18,000 shootings with guns in American schools and colleges. These groupings account for only about 4 percent of the nation’s schools and colleges, but they account for nearly 25 percent of all school shootings. While there are no silver bullets or single solutions when it comes to ending gun violence, there are a number of small steps schools can take that may have a positive impact on student safety.

For that purpose, on Tuesday, December 6th, 2022, The Broward County Crime Commission hosted the Building Bridges Mental Health Conference Series, Live Conference, entitled: “The Parkland/MSD Tragedy – Lessons Learned: Necessary Changes”  where retired judge Cindy Imperato served as a moderator.

Founded in 1976, by Proclamation of the citizenry of south Florida, the Broward County Crime Commission is one of 22 Citizen Crime Commissions in America, and the fifth oldest in the entire United States. Its mission, on behalf of the citizens of Florida, is to assess and  evaluate crime, and social issues which can transpire into crime, within Broward County  (and Florida, in general), and to work in concert with the Criminal Justice System to  derive preemptive and preventive solutions to those crimes, through Behavioral Health Analytics, Academic Programs, and Community Outreach Programs.

Since November of 2013, the Crime Commission has hosted approximately 45 Building Bridges Mental Health Conference Series Forums.  Attendance normally garners 100 to 150 plus attendees from the following sectors:  Criminal Justice, Law Enforcement, Fire Rescue, Emergency Medical Services, Psychiatry, Psychology, Sociology, Social Services, Medicine, Pharmacy, Academia, Private Enterprise, Education, Family Counseling, Probation, and Corrections. More than 7,000 people have attended these acclaimed forums; and more than 800 speakers, panelists, and judges have participated.

Cindy Imperato was moderator for the panel entitled “Views of Forensic Psychologists in the Parkland/MSD Shooting: What Must Society Learn Moving Forward?”

Establish a clear code of conduct

One of the first steps schools can take to prevent gun violence is establishing a clear code of conduct. In order to prevent students from carrying weapons onto campus, school administrators must set a standard of behavior that is neither condoning nor condemning certain actions. Rather, the code must reflect a common understanding of what is acceptable and unacceptable behavior within the school environment. Students who understand that their actions are not only allowed but expected will be less likely to carry guns than those who feel like they need to take certain steps in order to avoid scrutiny. The code should set a foundation of common behavior that is easy to remember and clearly outlines what is and is not acceptable behavior.

 

Train staff to spot and respond to signs of violence

The next step in preventing gun violence in schools is to train staff on how to spot and respond to signs of potential violence. This can be as simple as being aware of the typical red flags that may indicate someone may be planning a violent act. Red flags may include a sudden change in behavior, a person who is suddenly staying out late or “missing” classes, changes in social media content, or even a new presence of weaponry in the student’s possession. These may sound obvious, but they may not always be easy to spot.

 

End the use of firearms as a part of school discipline

Unfortunately, schools have been using firearms as a tool for disciplinary action for decades, despite the fact that they are a very real danger to students. If a student is found to have committed an act of violence within the school, such as bullying or assault, schools may choose to use a firearm to discipline the offender. As a result, these students are often given a very direct message about the possible consequences of their actions. By using firearms in “school-sponsored” disciplinary actions, schools are sending a very clear message to students: Violence is not only permitted, but it’s also acceptable. Schools must stop using firearms as a tool for discipline.

 

Educate students on the risks and dangers of guns

One major cause of gun violence is the way that people perceive guns and their role in society. When people see a gun as a normal part of their everyday lives, it becomes far too easy to view that gun as a potential source of harm. This is especially true for children, who may have had little or no exposure to guns in their childhoods and may therefore be less aware of their dangers. Schools must work to educate students about the dangers of guns and the fact that they are an uncommon and dangerous feature of American culture. Schools can do this by having gun safety lessons in health class or by offering gun violence awareness programmes during recess or lunchtime.

 

Integrate technology into safety efforts

Technology is a powerful tool in the fight against gun violence. With the right technology, schools can be much safer environments for students. By using virtual fencing, schools can create virtual boundaries. This allows students to safely communicate with each other and officials on campus, as well as to safely communicate with people off campus. Virtual fencing can be a great tool for preventing bullying and harassment, allowing students to easily report incidents of harassment or violence without fear of physical retaliation. By allowing students to report these incidents from a distance, virtual fencing can help prevent both the initial harm and any follow-on retaliation.

 

Final Thoughts

Schools play an important role in communities, providing education and a place for children to explore new ideas. As important as these functions are, however, it’s important for schools to remember that they are also a source of safety. By using these strategies, schools can help prevent gun violence. By doing so, they also ensure that students receive the education they deserve while also receiving the protection they require.

The Broward County Crime Commission is a 46 year old independent, state chartered office, acting judiciously on behalf of law – abiding citizens, in overseeing local, state, and federal Criminal Justice System protocols, processes, methodologies, and approaches, to better protect and assist the citizens of Broward County from Crime. The Crime Commission embodies innovative, preemptive, and proactive protocols (versus reactive programs), especially with guiding and mentoring children, so that they do not succumb to a life of crime, or suffer the ill fate of a heinous crime.

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