Address learned helplessness to reduce shootings

By Tomas Palmieri

Gun violence in our 21st-century America has never ceased to be a threat on a day-to-day basis. On a more specific note, school shootings are an all too common event that I feel is still being overlooked by the majority of our society.

My purpose in writing this article is not to instill fear or panic, but rather elucidate the seemingly hopeless mindset many of us have developed as a result of the countless school shootings that occur within this country. In order to properly deal with this gun violence crisis, especially in schools, we first need to understand our learned helplessness and attempt to dispel it so we can begin to make genuine changes.

Due to the frequency of school shootings, I feel that many people have grown desensitized to the events. It also doesn’t help that after major school shootings, it is possible to view videos or security camera footage of the actual event on social media.

Last year quickly after the Uvalde School Shooting at Robb Elementary School in Texas, I witnessed numerous videos of the security camera footage just on my Instagram feed alone. Although I think it is important to share this footage, especially to help support the families of the children and scrutinize the actions of the authorities involved, I also believe that the commonness of these videos causes many people to become numb to the issue at hand.

According to Edweek, as of February 16, we have already had seven school shootings in America that have resulted in injury or death. The fact that these events continue to happen over and over again with seemingly little change in rate definitely causes many Americans, teachers and students especially, to feel as if things will never change, resulting in widespread desensitization.

Just because we have become desensitized and numb does not mean that we have grown heartless or stopped caring about this repeated violence. I firmly believe that this “helpless mindset” is the result of our desensitization to school shootings, not a lack of caring.

Now that we can understand that our learned helplessness exists, we must also assess the issue of passiveness in regards to school shooting legislation.

When it comes to the issue of school shootings, legislation regarding core parts of the issue have been far too passive to allow for any improvement in school safety. In order to see actual decreases in gun violence within our schools, we need to take a much more assertive stance when it comes to pushing for stricter laws and regulations.

Background checks would be the first step at reducing rates of gun violence in our schools.
“Twenty-two percent of all firearm transfers in the country do not involve a background check,” UC Davis emergency medicine physician and director of Violence Prevention Research Program Garen Wintemute said in an interview with Science Magazine.

Background checks involved with buying firearms are too loose in general, but the fact that 22 percent of firearm sales don’t have background checks at all truly highlights how easy it can be for someone to get their hands on a firearm. This doesn’t even begin to take into account how easy it is to get firearms through the gun show loophole, which involves purchasing firearms from private sellers where background checks aren’t required.

Along with background checks, semi-automatic rifles are also far too easy for a civilian to obtain legally. Although handguns are the most used weapon in school shootings, second to them are semi-automatic rifles. Semi-automatic rifles should not even be attainable for civilians as they simply have too much killing power to be held by untrained nonmilitary people.

The other main issue regarding school shooting violence that needs to be more carefully looked at would be mental health. There is already a known link between students who have poor mental health and students who participate in gun violence at schools, so why haven’t we been pushing for more ways to help assess and aid those who are struggling with mental health?

Gaining access to mental health resources to aid those that are mentally troubled is both a difficult and expensive endeavor, as finding the right therapist, psychiatrist, or counselor is no easy task.

Only recently have we seen schools start to implement mental health services available for students, although they are still rudimentary at best.

The combination of lack of mental health support and ease of access to firearms are the main causes of mass shootings within schools. In order to create a safer learning space at schools, we must seek for reform in these avenues.

Our learned helplessness as a result of the frequency of school shootings can no longer be ignored or hold us back in pushing for change in legislation.

Once we accept and move past this numbed mindset, we will truly be able to create real change for our teachers, students, and children.