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News & Press: NASW-Michigan News

Correcting the Narrative: Gun safety, social work, and how to move forward

Monday, April 9, 2018   (0 Comments)
Posted by: Duane Breijak
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With the tragic loss of life due to the mass shooting in Parkland, Florida, the question of how to address gun violence and mass shootings in the United States is once again part of the national conversation. We continue to ask the question of how to address gun violence, safety, and mass shootings in the United States. This is an exhausting question that is like pushing a boulder up a hill, and we must reach the top.  It is important to look at the bigger picture of which gun violence is a part. It is important to understand that gun violence is truly a public health issue and not a mental health issue. I believe many of us are in agreement that no individual needs to own a military style assault weapon. It also seems reasonable that we take a serious look at how easy it can be to purchase a gun and create solutions that will make all of our communities safer. It is time to look even more closely at what solid and helpful gun control ought to be and to approach our legislators on what we want.  I recognize that we are not all in agreement on best practice, but we need to find ways to assure gun safety.


This written piece is not an answer, but is an attempt to engage membership in dialogue about how to proceed and to explore some of the myths that exist. First and foremost, the alleged correlation between mass shootings and mental illness is a pernicious falsehood, one borne of misplaced fear. It is suggested that individuals with mental illness may be more likely to be victims of violence and criminal activity than to perpetrate it. There is research that indicates that mass shootings and violent behavior frequently have a substance use or alcohol related component as well as a correlation with dual diagnosis. This serves as another indicator that funding must go into substance use disorder treatment.


As social workers, we are trying to find solutions to the violence we are seeing in our country, but unfortunately there is no simple fix. Whether it is anger/rage, hatred of those different from us, or rare instances of mental illness we must also continue to work for gun control and safety. This is part of the public health problem and of the bigger picture.  We do know that guns in the wrong hands can lead to gun violence and we see that hatred of those different from us can trigger violent responses. Peaceful discussion must begin between groups who may fear or dislike each other.


The true heroes in the gun safety movement are the youth from not only Parkland, Florida, but from all across the country who are demanding safer schools and communities. They have witnessed firsthand the cold murder of their classmates and are helping each other work through grief, loss, depression, and PTSD. They have also taken the political system by the horns and will not let go until there is change, we have seen their action result in the March For Our Lives rallies which were held across the globe as well as policy change in several states.


It is important for all of us to learn from the actions of Parkland Youth who are talking, confronting, and collaborating. As social workers we know how to organize, how to facilitate difficult discussions, and this is what we can do. There is no better time than now to advocate for change.


Maxine Thome, PhD, LMSW, MPH, ACSW

Executive Director. National Association of Social Workers – Michigan Chapter

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