Once again, our country is reeling from another tragic mass shooting, this time leaving at least 18 people dead. Lewiston, Maine, may be hundreds of miles away from the South Coast, but we can feel from here the depth of horror, fear, and grief. While we have not suffered locally from such a large mass event lately, we are no strangers to gun violence in our communities. Neither are our children. We, and they, feel its harmful emotional reach, whether it’s near or far. 

Regardless of whether it happens in the next neighborhood over or the next state, research shows that the impacts related to violence not only are felt when it happens nearby, such as to witnesses and first responders, but often extend to those who live far away and with no personal connection to the event.

Sometimes as adults, we think these tragedies belong to the grownup world, that children aren’t listening, are not aware, or somehow have escaped. That is rarely the case, especially with the prevalence of media in our lives. Our kids know or absorb what’s happening, and their sense of safety and security is broken, particularly when the carnage is caused by another human being intentionally bent on harming others.

In the days ahead and after every episode of gun or other violence, as we try to make sense of the senseless, we need to be aware of our own mental health as well as the mental health of our children. We need to be alert to the signs of depression, insecurity, increased suicide, and anxiety, and we need to advocate for increased mental health counseling in our schools and communities.

We should also be aware that the burden of gun violence is rarely shared equally. Black, Brown, and Hispanic students are more likely to be exposed to gun violence than white adolescents. Poor adolescents are more likely to be exposed than middle- and high-income adolescents. All of this is why the Massachusetts School Counselors Association is advocating for legislation that would create pilot programs in Gateway Municipalities that would provide one school counselor for a maximum of 250 students, the association’s recommended ratio. Vermont and New Hampshire are currently the only states that meet that goal.

At the same time, we cannot forget the continued need to advocate for gun control. Not only is the mental health of our children at stake, but their physical well-being is also increasingly threatened by guns. A growing number of children are dying from gun homicides, suicides, and accidents. “Man, boy dead after New Bedford murder-suicide,” “14-year-old shot in Fall River,” “Man arrested for bringing gun into a New Bedford trampoline park,” are just some of this year’s local headlines. Gun safety saves lives, stopping the carnage before it happens and preventing devastation to the minds and bodies of our youth.

Marquis Taylor is CEO of Coaching4Change, a mentoring organization in Gateway Cities throughout Massachusetts and Rhode Island, matching college students of color with high school and elementary school students in inner cities.

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