Despite the passage of a few months the violent deaths of the children in Newtown, Connecticut, and the shooting of Chicago South Side teenager, Hadiya Pendleton, their deaths have galvanized the nation, and begun a conversation of on how best to protect the country’s young people, and others.
Much of the ensuing debate has centered on gun laws, appropriate registration, and background checks to ensure that guns are not in the hands of the mentally disturbed, or those with a violent history.
The responses have ranged from that of President Obama, who noted, in a recent trip to Chicago, “No law or set of laws can prevent every senseless act of violence in this country,” to Wayne LaPierre, executive vice president and CEO of the National Rifle Association, who in the immediate aftermath of the Newtown murders said that teachers, aides, administrators, should be armed with guns to protect the schools; a suggestion that was widely scoffed, and even ridiculed.
The NRA’s position is that guns in the hands of law-abiding citizens can create safer communities. But, those on the left, and from the administration, disagree, feeling that it would lead to greater violence.
Focusing on restrictions of freedom, and Second Amendment rights, La Pierre said at a recent meeting of the Mule Deer Foundation, “The Second Amendment -- it’s not just words on parchment . . . it lies on the very heart of what our country was founded upon.”
Such rhetoric, of course, is not new to the argument, which has waxed, and waned over the last several decades; but in light of the December shootings at Newtown they have taken on fresh significance in the public discourse.
This Wednesday, former Arizona Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords returned to the site of her near fatal shooting in Tucson, where, in a speech, she urged members of the U.S. Senate to “be courageous” and support background checks for all gun buyers.
School efforts at prevention
Efforts from the school administrators and officials have focused on anti-bullying measures coupled with grass root measures such as Chicago’s Operation Cease Fire, a public health effort designed to use former gang members to help talk to serve as mediators in street conflicts before they become deadly.
In addition, Chicago Public Schools have spent over $50 million dollars in efforts to keep children safe, even in getting to, and from school, and also identifying those at risk, a struggle that has been hampered by diminishing financial resources, despite a boost from federal grants that began in 2009.
Paul Schewe, Director of the Chicago Interdisciplinary Center for Research on Violence, and also associate professor of criminology, law and justice, at the University of Illinois at Chicago, told me, in an emailed statement, “clearly, the problem of violence is complex, and will require a multifaceted solution that will involve the efforts of governmental agencies, non-profit agencies, grass-roots organizations, schools, universities, community groups, law enforcement, businesses, and policy-makers.”
One of the most important tools in addressing school violence is that of the school social worker, who according to Annette Johnson, clinical associate professor, at UIC’s Jane Addams College of Social Work told me that “from a prevention perspective, the school social worker can help students develop the social and emotional competencies that are so important for academic success in school.” And, furthermore, “these skills can be introduced in small groups, classroom groups or by working collaboratively with the classroom teacher and/or…