Once again we find ourselves reeling from a mass shooting, this time in a small community college in Oregon. One of the most disturbing reports of the Umpqua Community College incident was that the dead victims’ cell phones were ringing when police and rescue workers arrived on the scene, as their families and friends tried to make contact with them. The heartbreak for this community is palpable; for nursing educators, the concern of wondering if this could happen in our classrooms, in our schools, is unsettling. Some of us might recall the 2002 Arizona nursing faculty mass shooting, where 3 nursing professors were gunned down and killed by a student who had failed a pediatric class and decided that he had the shooting authority and was angry enough, I suppose, I don’t understand really, why.
What has changed since those 2002 shootings? If you scroll through your facebook feed today, it is likely you will find many postings about the statistics of mass shootings, thoughts about how nothing has changed, and debates over stricter gun control. Meanwhile, I feel that nursing should be viewing the gun violence issue as a public health issue, and we could be the ones helping to lead the way in preventing future mass shootings. We have a strong voice, as we recently proved with the “#Drsstethoscope ” and “#nursesunite ” movements; and now perhaps we could unite over some issues that deeply impact the health of all beings on this planet.
The American Public Health Association (APHA) has made clear statements that gun violence is preventable (https://www.apha.org/~/media/files/pdf/factsheets/gun_violence_prevention.ashx). APHA recognizes that gun violence is contagious and has become an epidemic in the United States. APHA recommends that we:
- Use surveillance techniques to track- gun related deaths and injurious shootings.
- Focus on identifying the many risk factors for gun violence.
- Create, implement, and evaluate interventions that reduce these risk factors and support resilience for those who are suffering.
- Institutionalize prevention strategies.
We also clearly need more research in this area; we need to examine what common sense gun policies might look like, what have other countries implemented; what worked for them, and what has not worked for them.
Nurses and educators can begin in their work places, looking at their own risks within the workplace, and working toward implementing prevention strategies and trainings around what to do should an issue of gun violence begin to emerge.
We need to also reach out to communities, particularly school settings, and develop and support education around gun safety, bullying, mental health issues, and how to ask for help. We need to have mental health services in place that can truly identify and properly intervene with those who are at risk for gun violence.
Nurses could also bond together, #nursesunite, and create a clear voice around stricter gun control. We could do our own research around what has worked in other countries and what that might look like here, and then bring these ideas forward to our lawmakers. At the very least, we could be calling for better access to mental health services for those in need, and early identification of those who might be at risk for perpetuating gun violence. Childhood traumas likely play a role in this issue as well, and supporting the creation of trauma informed schools should be a nursing advocacy issue.
We have power in our numbers; let’s put it to great use. #nursesunite