By Jamie L. Pratt, PsyD
Gun violence is a major public health concern, and action is needed now more than ever to protect our children and communities. The Maine Psychological Association, an organization whose mission is to advance psychology as a science, as a profession, and as a means of promoting human welfare, urges the adoption of a comprehensive public health approach informed by science to prevent gun violence.
The national statistics are sobering. Firearm-related injuries are now the leading cause of death among children and adolescents, and a report published in the New England Journal of Medicine shows steeply increasing trends in rates of these preventable deaths. Each year in the United States, 2,100 young people die by gun homicide and 1,200 children and teens die by gun suicide (Everytown for Gun Safety). To put this in perspective, consider that the number of gun-related homicides and suicides in the United States is significantly greater than the number of firearm-related deaths in other high-income countries. One analysis of World Health Organization mortality data from 23 high-income countries revealed that over 90% of children ages 0-14 who were killed by firearms for any reason were from the United States (American Journal of Medicine).
The tragedies of mass shootings and school violence also demands attention. One in four victims of mass shootings in the United States are children, and more than 311,000 students have experienced gun violence at 331 schools since the Columbine High School tragedy in 1999 (Washington Post). Although school shootings remain relatively uncommon, there were more in 2021 than in any year since Columbine. Furthermore, deaths and injuries resulting from gun violence in schools are only part of the problem. Exposure to these events can contribute to a wide range of mental and behavioral health challenges, such as depression, anxiety, and substance use.
Although we all take pride in the safety of Maine communities, we would be remiss to assume that our children are immune from the risk of gun violence. There are guns in nearly 50% of Maine households, compared to about 30% nationally (RAND Corporation). Maine high school students are significantly more likely than their national peers to report carrying a weapon on school property (CDC), and our local news reported ten violent threats in Maine schools in the month after the mass shooting in Uvalde, Texas. Suicide rates among Maine youth are also higher than the national average (Maine CDC), and access to guns is a significant risk factor for suicide.
Mainers are not immune to the harms of gun violence. We must open our eyes and our minds to the reality of this threat to public health and ask if we are doing enough to protect our children from preventable death.
The Maine Psychological Association stands behind the open letter to Congress issued by the American Psychological Association and other allied educational mental health professional organizations, and we stand behind the Call for Action to Prevent Gun Violence in the United States of America issued by the Interdisciplinary Group on Preventing School and Community Violence. We urge our fellow Mainers to follow suit and advocate for legislation to prevent gun violence and create safer schools and communities for our children.
Jamie L. Pratt, PsyD
President, Maine Psychological Association