Moving beyond gun control

Gun control doesn't stop bombings, and it doesn't prevent violent people from buying nails, BBs or pressure cookers. While I am supportive of gun control — and applaud Maryland for being one of the few states taking a strong stance on gun possession — tighter regulations will not prevent all violent attacks from occurring. In order to reach a real solution, the national discussion must go beyond gun control.

For instance, how can we better predict who is likely to become a violent perpetrator? I've studied this topic for over three decades as a forensic psychologist. Determining who is likely to commit violence is not an exact science, but it has made great strides in recent years. While nothing can predict with 100 percent accuracy who will become violent, assessments are available that are 80 percent accurate or higher.


What should we do if a youth displays several red flags that they are more likely to commit violence? Should we lean in the direction of limiting the rights of many in hopes of preventing the actions of the dangerous few? Or, do we limit the rights of few and risk missing several mass murderers? Either way, these questions should be part of the national debate. Our choices have dire consequences for this society.

Fundamentally, our best approach is to address violence in the early developmental stages during childhood and adolescence. Early childhood programs with strong parent involvement are proven to prevent later delinquency and violence. Making these programs readily available to all families does not take away anyone's rights, yet they are effective. Why is this idea not at the forefront of the discussion?


School-based mental health programs embedded in students' daily routines are also a proven practice to reduce violence. These programs allow professionals to catch problems early and to counteract violent predispositions before it's too late. The financial cost of such a program is minimal, and in the long run it will be less painful and expensive than any of the tragedies we have experienced thus far.

Crossover kids are youths who start out in the child protective services system but end up in the juvenile services system. Where are the intensive family programs that we need to keep abused and neglected children from becoming violent teens and adults? Is the cost really too high that it's not worth the life of a child? How about the lives of 26 children and adults who were gunned down in the safe haven of their own school? Would it outweigh the $63 billion that taxpayers spend every year on U.S. incarceration?

This issue is not just about mental illness. Nor is it solely about the availability of guns. It is about individuals who have more problems than they have solutions, who have neither the ability nor the resources to cope. They may have psychological and substance abuse problems, learning deficiencies, lack of adult support, and/or early childhood trauma that have left them bereft of the skills needed to handle everyday problems. It's the combinations of these factors that cause someone to have a propensity for violent behavior.

So while the gun regulations are a good start, the reality is that they are just that: a starting point. If we are truly to prevent horrific shootings and attacks, we must focus on early intervention by:

•making mental health services widely available throughout all school systems;

•preventing and stopping childhood abuse, neglect and exposure to domestic violence;

•coordinating care for high-risk youths across agencies;

•offering intensive services for youths and families with complex problems and few internal or external resources;


•providing developmental skill building for youths and parents.

These are not simple answers, but the challenge before us is extremely complex. Simple answers don't exist. And while we have made great strides in raising awareness about violence prevention, we must realize that this fight is a marathon, not a sprint. We cannot be content with easy outcomes that are just limited to gun control. Let's consider what else our great nation can do and begin seeking a broader perspective and solution to end violence for good.

Kathy Seifert is a Maryland-based youth violence expert, author, speaker, and the CEO of Eastern Shore Psychological Services (ESPS). Learn more at