A Violence Researcher’s Take on Preventing Mass Shootings


Photo by Tim Mudd | Unsplash

1) Gun Control is Essential

We must ban assault rifles for non-military use, implement strong background checks, a system of social media scans, and more. Look to Canada, our super safe neighbor to the north. They have reportedly 743 homicides in 2020 for 38 million people – a truly amazing statistic. Like us, they are a diverse culture, enjoy recreational hunting, play the same video games, watch the same violent movies, etc. We need to look at their system and figure out ways of replication here at home.


2) Harden the Sites

We must add metal detectors at every functioning school entrance. The kids will accommodate it knowing the world that we live in. Metal detectors are already present at courthouses, hospitals, and more public properties. Additionally, we can add heavily armed school police on-site that kids will get to know and vice versa. It will revive the old picture of the friendly neighborhood cop that everyone knows by name. Adding other layers of security to school buildings – like keys cards – is also doable.


3) Teachers NOT Carrying Guns

I have taught thousands of teachers as a university professor in Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and California for several decades. Arming teachers is a terrible and dangerous idea. Teachers teach. Armed trained police protect. 


Teachers have enough on their plate and enough stress without worrying about being responsible in this way for school safety and security. Arming teachers would completely change the relationship between students and teachers. Not only would it increase the presence of deadly weapons in a busy complex moving environment of students and staff, it also raises the possibility of students using the gun themselves in the classroom.


After all, having a gun in a classroom would remove the need for students to try to buy one. They could just steal it. This is particularly pertinent if the age of legal purchase goes to 21 – with no background check and other measures. There is a concept called “The Weapons Effect” which suggests that the mere presence of weapons may potentiate or increase aggressiveness. This effect needs more research, but we should urge caution when adding guns in classrooms.


4) Violent Video Games and Media

It is way too premature to blame mass school shootings on violent video game consumption. The majority of the available research studies are based not on real actionable violence (which I have labeled “big-V violence”) but are based on self-report questionnaires about aggressiveness. Simple laboratory tasks, for example, like delivering loud unpleasant noise to another person, can be considered “small-v violence”. 


Gun homicides are big-V violence, not unpleasant small-v. We cannot conclude from the available research with any certainty that watching violent video games or other violent media contributes to mass murders, and the majority of the relevant research, again, does not involve real-world violence.


5) Mental Health

Using traditional diagnostic categories, mental illness is a relatively small factor in American gun homicides. I see most mass murderers being in a psychodiagnostic class by themselves, and very few have been studied as they usually are killed or take their own life.


6) Long-Term Solutions

We need more-relevant research and more school psychologists and counselors in the schools dealing with early intervention and prevention, social-emotional issues, impulse control problems, anger, aggression, etc.


7) More Understanding

For more understanding of the horrendous problem of violence in America, please see “The National Violence Summit” on YouTube. The summit involved 19 national authorities on the topic, which convened in Washington, DC for three days, including Chair Frank Farley, sponsored by The Society for the Study of Peace, Conflict and Violence. Dr. Farley can be contacted at frank.farley@comcast.net

Frank Farley

Frank Farley, Ph.D., is a Professor Emeritus of Psychological Studies in Education at Temple University, Philadelphia. He has previously taught at the University of Wisconsin in Madison, WI, and University of California-Berkeley, and been a visiting scholar at Stanford University. Born and raised in Alberta, Canada, he received B.A, and M.A. degrees from the University of Saskatchewan, and a Ph.D from the Institute of Psychiatry, University of London, UK, following which he emigrated to the U.S. He has been President of 13 national and international scientific and professional societies in psychology and education, including the American Psychological Association, the world’s largest such society. His research focuses on extreme human behavior in all of its manifestations, including such topics as violence, heroism, risk-taking.

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