U-M experts available to discuss prevention, aftermath of school shootings

EXPERTS ADVISORY

University of Michigan experts can discuss school shootings and the aftermath in a community in the wake of the shootings Nov. 30 at Oxford High School in Michigan:

Marc Zimmerman is co-director of the U-M Institute for Firearm Injury Prevention and co-principal investigator of the National Center for School Safety. Research led by Zimmerman shows that engaging local residents in community greening efforts can lead to a substantial reduction in firearm violence, and that empowering adolescents to become change agents for community improvement projects improves their positive behaviors and reduces aggression and violence.

"School safety starts with prevention, which means creating school climates where adults model respect for others and help to monitor student behavior deviating from that, helping youth develop the social and emotional skills for conflict management and problem solving that does not include violent behavior, and developing educational programs for all member of the school community to recognize signs of distress with safe ways to report concerns to appropriate adults,” he said.

Patrick Carter is co-director of the Institute for Firearm Injury Prevention, an associate professor of emergency medicine at the Medical School, and an associate professor of health behavior and health education at the School of Public Health. Carter’s research focuses on firearm injury prevention across the spectrum of research, from understanding the epidemiology of the problem to prevention-focused solutions for at-risk individuals and communities. Carter leads several NIH and CDC studies focused on hospital-based interventions to reduce the risk of firearm violence among at-risk youth.

Zimmerman and Carter write about school shooters and the pandemic in a piece in The Conversation U.S.

Sandra Graham-Bermann is a psychology professor whose research includes traumatic stress reactions in children exposed to violence.

"While this is not easy, most people who have witnessed or been involved in a traumatic event grieve and adjust over time,” she said. "Grieving is a normal part of recovering from traumatic events. While it is normal for those involved to have nightmares or intrusive memories concerning the violence, perhaps to become hypervigilant, depressed, or anxious, these symptoms usually abate over time.

"But some children and adults may continue to have symptoms of traumatic stress that interfere with school or work, with social relationships, and with their optimal development as teenagers or young adults. Schools and parents can provide support for the grieving process. Long-term symptoms that could turn into Post Traumatic Stress Disorder require professional help.”

Joanna Quigley is a clinical associate professor of psychiatry and provides support to primary care providers serving the mental health needs of children and teens across Michigan through the MC3 program. Quigley discusses how to talk with children and teens about the shooting in a Michigan Medicine story.

"The biggest things that adults and our communities can do for young people right now are to provide consistency and structure, to keep open lines of communication, and to find time each day to check in with one another,” she said. "Make it clear you’re available to answer questions about what happened, but make sure the child isn’t overexposed to the media coverage of the event, or to social media posts about it.

"Grownups should name the emotions they’re feeling about this situation, especially with teens. Sometimes older children and teens aren’t ready to name the emotions they’re feeling or discuss them proactively, but if they hear that others are feeling them, they may.”

Justin Heinze is an assistant professor of health behavior and health education at the U-M School of Public Health. Heinze’s research involves the study of adolescent and young adult development, with a particular emphasis on youth violence and long-term ramifications of violence exposure. Heinze serves as the faculty lead of the School of Public Health’s IDEAS Initiative for preventing firearm injuries, which promotes data-driven and evidence-based solutions to firearm injury and death. In this Q&A , Heinze discusses a need for increased firearm injury prevention strategies.

"One piece of information I’ve seen that is consistent with other active school shooting events-but stands out nonetheless-is just how quickly the shooter was able to injure and kill his victims,” he said. "This underscores the importance of mitigation strategies at the time of the shooting; for example, sheltering in place and coordination with law enforcement-both of which appeared to happen in this case-in order to limit the number of injuries and fatalities.

"But it also shows how critical the upstream or prevention strategies are to intervene before an event escalates to a realized plan of action because even in just five minutes, we’ve lost at least four youth to firearm violence and many, many more will be affected by the shooter’s actions.”

Rebecca Cunningham is the vice president for research at U-M, a professor of emergency medicine at the Medical School, and a professor of health behavior and health education at the School of Public Health. Over the course of her career, Cunningham has partnered with researchers and community groups to formulate and answer critical questions about firearm injury prevention. She has authored more than 50 scholarly publications that focus on firearm injury prevention. She also leads the Firearm Safety Among Children and Teens Consortium-an interdisciplinary group of more than 30 researchers, practitioners and firearm owners across the United States who are dedicated to reducing child firearm injuries and deaths.

"Firearm violence led to nearly 40,000 deaths nationwide last year, and this crisis is unfortunately growing more intense every year,” she said. "Firearms are consistently the leading cause of death among adolescents and young adults, and in Michigan over the past decade, guns have killed more people than opioids. Serious societal problems, like motor vehicle crashes, have turned to scientific evidence to prevent injuries, and firearms should be no different.

"Much more can be done to address this problem. That is why researchers across the University of Michigan are partnering with rural and urban community leaders, leveraging expertise and resources, so that together we achieve our common goals of decreasing firearm injury and death, all while respecting the rights of law-abiding citizens.”

Jane Prophet is the asso­ciate dean for research and cre­ative work at the Penny W. Stamps School of Art & Design at U-M. She serves as a mem­ber of the U-M Institute for Firearm Injury Pre­ven­tion Steer­ing Com­mit­tee and is the co-founder of a new National Endow­ment for the Arts Research Lab that seeks to investigate the ways public art and community engagement can reduce youth firearm injury.

Prophet can also speak about the design of smart weapons to reduce injury, such as when a child gets hold of a gun by mistake, and behavior change through deep understanding of different communities and the ways art and design methods and activities can facilitate this understanding.

"When communities experience the trauma of gun-related injuries and deaths, coming together to grieve and commemorate is essential for healing. These gatherings can be helped by a wide range of activities, especially creative activities, that bring people together.”

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