Commusings: How to Heal the Root Causes of Gun Violence in Schools by Scarlett Lewis

Jun 02, 2022

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'Okay, Houston...we have a problem here...and failure is not an option.' These lines are a Hollywood adaptation of those said by the astronauts of Apollo 13 when their oxygen tank exploded on their way to the moon in the '70s. Failure is not an option when it comes to our children's safety either. The problem is that this has not been prioritized. Over 350 school shootings have occurred since Sandy Hook Elementary where my 6-year-old son, Jesse, was murdered alongside 19 of his classmates and 6 educators a decade ago.

This massacre in Uvalde, Texas at Robb Elementary School last week is eerily familiar. Since Sandy Hook people assumed we made advances in our active shooter response. The recent slaughters have proven that false. The fact of the matter is that law enforcement is infallible, we've tried and can't make our schools fortresses, and our children's mental health continues to degrade. So what can we do?

I have spent the last 10 years since my son's murder working on a solution. Immediately, I rejected any focus on what hadn't worked in the past. Posthumously, Jesse actually helped point me in the right direction. He wrote three words on our kitchen chalkboard shortly before he died, 'Norturing Helinn Love' (Nurturing Healing Love). I knew that if the shooter had been able to give, and receive, nurturing healing love, the tragedy would never have happened. Individuals that love themselves, won't want to harm themselves, or others. It was so simple, but simple isn't always easy.

When we want someone to blame it’s hard to understand that these young perpetrators are hurt and in pain. They lack the coping mechanism and social-emotional competence to make better choices. We can call them monsters, even call for their execution if they live as is happening now in Parkland, but in reality they are big kids inflicting their hopelessness and rage on others.

That's the problem to fix, right there.

I decided to address the root cause of the problem, rather than focus on the problem itself. This hasn't worked with substance abuse, bullying or suicide to date. So I developed a program that teaches love at its core. We can't always choose what happens in our lives, but we can always choose how we respond. When we return our locus of control to inside of ourselves, we have the agency to make things happen. We have hope. That is what we're all striving for here. Because each of these school shootings is preventable, I have plenty of hope.

It is our children's lives and our very future at stake. Let's get off our ego-based platforms, stop swinging at each other like backyard bullies, and come together to create a path forward. We are modeling our words, actions and posts for our children! Are you acting as your highest and best self? Why should we expect anything other from our children?

I don't like to be the bearer of bad news but, there is no plan from the top. I've been saying for a decade that it is going to take every one of us, taking responsibility, to get to a solution. Perhaps we are numb and don't think we can do anything. I'm here to tell you that we must! I decided to take my part of the responsibility for what happened to my son in my community. I had never met our shooter but I do know that we are responsible for our actions, as well as our inactions. It actually felt good to step out of victimhood and into my power as I dedicated my life to being part of the solution.

Here's my take at a 360-degree approach to keeping our kids safe. It's a start, and by no means perfect. Please help me refine it. We're in this together. Improvements need to be made RIGHT NOW for kids to feel safe.

Step 1. Protect our schools! Dads in Schools is an organization that recruits volunteers to be present at school as another set of eyes. These volunteers are mobile, inside and outside of the schools, ready to act when necessary. They are not armed, only with presence and love. Kids and their educators need to feel safe and this visual presence is a solid start.

Step 2. Choose Love! Choose Love in Schools is a no-cost comprehensive program that gives kids essential life skills necessary to manage their emotions, have healthy relationships and make responsible decisions, just to name a few. These types of programs that teach self-regulation must be incorporated into classrooms and include coping mechanisms as well as social-emotional competence. Research proves these essential life skills are a path to flourishing and can help kids in crisis as well as those who are well adjusted.

Step 3. Identify those in pain. There are See Something Say Something programs that help us focus on those in need and potential threats. We all know someone who is isolated, lonely, mentally unwell or angry. Visit your neighbors, bring a warm loaf of bread like we used to. We need to be more vigilant and diligent in our awareness and compassion for others.

Step 4. Address social media. I don't know about you, but I can have a casual conversation about an off-topic and all of a sudden ads will pop up in my feed for weeks about the same. Twitter can stop a user from spreading misinformation within minutes but shooters can post their nefarious intentions in advance with no oversight. I call on Mark Zuckerberg and Elon Musk to work together to use the technology available today to help our kids be safe. Mark has already testified to Congress that his platforms exacerbate teenage suicide. Advertising dollars have been prioritized over our children's safety and wellbeing. Time to hold people accountable and adjust our priorities.

Step 5. Strengthen our law enforcement response. We need better training and more technology. Reverse the focus on defunding police and subsequent rising crime and violence and bring our police back stronger and more compassionate with coaching and instruction. Provide more overtime for school duty. Following the Sandy Hook tragedy our schools created functioning police stations directly inside them. Utilize our retired police officers and veterans. Compensate them! There's definitely a place for grandparents as well.

Step 6. Strengthen our mental health response. Our kids are waiting in ER's for months with suicidal ideation and attempts. Many doctors are full or have waiting lists months long. Let's figure out a way to fill this gap, quickly. This isn't my area of expertise but I would love to hear ideas. Prior to COVID only 70% of our kids received professional help and thus struggled alone. The average onset age for anxiety is 6 years old in the US and left untreated can look like everything we're seeing. We must increase these numbers.

Step 7. Violent content in games and movies. The American Psychiatric Association reported in 1998 that our kids are exposed to 16,000 simulated murders, and 200,000 acts of violence by the time they're 18. It has only gotten worse. I can say we now hold in our hands, in the form of a cell phone or screen, a front-row ticket to the worst of humanity. This is traumatizing our children as well as reducing their critical thinking and focus. Hollywood rants against guns yet almost every film contains gun violence. My son, who knows I don't like to see people being killed, tried to take me to a movie recently as a birthday gift. He thought he chose carefully for content. Turns out it contained a scene where the main character gets his head blown off. His brains are blasted all over his friend's shirt to which his friend's reply was to taste them and say, 'ick!' Were we supposed to laugh? I call on Hollywood to do what they say, as well as to be the role models our kids think you are and need you to be.

We can send people to space, for fun. I know we can keep our kids safe in schools and provide for their health and well-being. Jesse stood up to the shooter as he came into his first-grade classroom, after shooting down his principal and counselor in the hallway just outside the door. When his gun ran out of bullets, and as he reloaded, Jesse called to his friends to 'Run!' He was able to save 9 of his classmates' lives before losing his own. We all have the capacity for that courage. There is no plan other than the one we will put into place collectively, and carry out ourselves. You and I are responsible for our children's safety, and thus our future. Help spread the word about my thoughts and let's do this together.

As Rumi says, 'We're all just walking each other home.'

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