By Janlee Wong, MSW, NASWCA Executive Director
Sadly, mass shootings, as well as gun violence in general, have become commonplace, and too frequent in the U.S. and around the world. Some say it’s been normalized, spread by the Internet and social media. Others include such reasons as the widespread proliferation of guns despite continuing gun control efforts. Politically, some have pointed to the divisive and polarizing comments by the President and some of his supporters.
Fortunately, most Americans and our communities distain the attempts to divide and target people by race, religion or ethnicity in our country and rally together when there is a tragedy. Gilroy is another example of how the greater community is supporting each other, donating to Internet crowdfunding efforts and asking our policymakers to look for more ways to prevent mass violence in the future.
Social workers and public health professionals have public policy and service ideas that are proven and effective. Social workers look at the environment of an individual, their family and their community. Our service ideas range from pre-school and K-12 social work services to efforts to address social determinants such as poverty, housing, transportation and safety. Public health wants gun violence (and other forms of violence) to be declared a preventable disease that can be cured through intervention, containment and education. Social workers work together with public health on these mutually inclusive goals.
First, the President and Congress must join with state and local leaders to make the declaration that gun violence is a public health epidemic and that resources must be allocated to treat the epidemic, a lot of resources. That means we need prevention and intervention programs to stop gun violence before it happens. We do have such programs in many of our communities, but they are too few, not well coordinated and underfunded. We need to do more than fund direct prevention and intervention but also tackle the harder systemic problems that underlie poverty, lack of opportunity, and housing. We need to change the perception and stigma that prevents us from identifying and treating people with underlying mental health and personality disorders.
We recognize that poverty and violence create trauma in our youth. Let’s treat that trauma. We know that for some individuals, social isolation or alienation coupled with anger displaced upon targets of hate groups leads to violent impulses. Let’s work with families and communities to identify and utilize communication strategies to spot those tendencies and to address them.
Let’s change the public discourse from the politics of division to the unity of declaring gun violence a public health disease and curing it.