Archive for February, 2013

Taking Aim at Violence against Children—Part I

Gun Violence

[The Importance of a Broader Contextual Viewpoint]



I am initiating a four part series on the subject of violence perpetrated against children. This will occur from February through May 2013 and will involve a broad and extensive contextual look at violence against children. Adulthood can be difficult for anyone. But children making that journey between infancy and adulthood do not make their journey possessing all the physical, mental and emotional resources to cope with all the potential sources of violence in their environment.

Children need love and support and protection as they attempt to navigate through the sometimes troubled waters of growing up. Above all, they need a safe caring environment while they grow and develop skills, and develop that all-important personality characteristic—self-esteem.

Are we as a society serious about loving and protecting all our children? If we are, we need to confront head on, not just the evil of mass murder, but all individual and institutionalized violence committed against children. Why should society take such a comprehensive approach to all sources of violence against children? It appears childhood victimization is very widespread in this country. This highlighted statement above will be supported with research data and statistics during the course of the four part series.

Contextual Approach to Evaluating Violence

All human behavior is neutral until someone attaches social meaning to the actions of individuals or groups. I have always found the contextual nature of behavior very thought-provoking and interesting from a social scientist’s point of view. Said another way, my sociological imagination is on full throttle whenever I detect some inconsistency between a person’s values or beliefs (beliefs, particularly cherished beliefs, are really cherished values) on the one hand, and their actual behavior on the other.

Nowhere is this more evident than with current efforts to deal with gun violence in the nation’s schools. People have jumped to deal with only one type of violence; a much more comprehensive approach would be to pursue and confront all sources of violence toward children, not just mass murder. When the smoke finally clears on the President’s plan to stem gun violence, I recommend the President and the Congress promote a more comprehensive approach to stemming violence in society, with special attention to preventing violence against children.

Don’t get me wrong. I admire President Barack Obama for his politically courageous efforts to deal with gun violence and the NRA gun lobby following the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. The decisions being made now have reached a boiling point in light of the culmination of other horrific previous tragedies such as Columbine, a theater in Aurora Colorado, Virginia Tech, and many other locations where mass murder has occurred. But, it is really important in the future to take a more comprehensive and contextual approach to preventing violence toward children.

Complexity of Violence

Violence in society is a complicated subject to address because it depends upon the variegated contextual nature in differing social setting in which it occurs. Sometimes violence as human behavior can be identical from social setting to social setting, yet the meaning one attaches to the same behavior (be it positive, negative, or neutral) can vary significantly.

We all possess values that conflict with one another. Differing value judgments within the same individual can often create as much conflict as differing value judgments between individuals. In addition, when there is a major inconsistency between one’s behavior and one’s beliefs, psychologists have a name for that—it’s called Cognitive Dissonance.

For example, many people believe in the sanctity of life, yet will take life in a combat zone. Or a parent will try to” teach” a child not to hit others (how utterly dumb is this?) by in turn hitting the child. Inconsistency between one’s beliefs or values and one’s behavior can surface when someone believes smoking is bad for one’s health and longevity, but lights up anyway.

Or, someone can get on another’s case for stealing, but have no conscience when cheating or lying about one’s own tax return. Or, many people profess to care about violence toward children, but fail to really explore or deal with all sources of violence in their own child’s environment. An example of this is the parent who knowingly stands by while the other parent sexually or physically abuses a child. Personally, from a psychological point of view, I see much cognitive dissonance in individuals as emanating from a highly egocentric personality. Even when inconsistency is recognized by the individual, psychological defense mechanisms come into play to engage in denial of reality.




Before getting underway with this series, readers need to understand two things: (1) this author’s approach to classifying violence, and (2) the definition of violence and torture.

Classifying Violence

     All violence can be classified into two basic types: Individual or small group violence and institutionalized violence. Individual or small group violence would include, of course, individuals acting alone. But the definition would also include the actions of small groups of individuals such as gangs, or the spontaneous actions of loosely-constructed mobs where individuals may not even know each other.

Then, there is institutionalized violence. These are violent acts sanctioned by larger social institutional entities such as schools, criminal organizations such as the Mafia, or small, medium or large organizations (like the CIA) within a government (democratic or otherwise). Even entire countries can sanction violence, as in wartime. Violence is an individual and culturally-generated behavior that manifests itself with very little restraint, and is all-to-common everywhere in the world.

Definition of Violence and Torture

     Violence can be of either short or long duration. Therefore, it is necessary to define torture although sometimes these words are interrelated and not necessarily mutually exclusive (torture is violence, but not all violence involves torture). Thus, there is a need to define torture as well. Torture (even as a rationalization of the Bush Administration for homeland security) is nevertheless a criminal act, and a violation of human rights and prohibited in law by four international Geneva Conventions going back to the early part of the Twentieth Century.

Here is the definition of each term: Violence is behavior involving physical, mental, or emotional harm or psychological duress in order to hurt, damage, or kill someone or something. It is also the strength of emotion generated from an unpleasant or destructive natural force. Torture is the action or practice of inflicting severe pain on someone as a punishment, or in order to force someone to do or say something.

Sources of Violence toward Children

During a child’s formative years children can be  victimized in a variety of ways including: gun violence such as drive-by shootings, homicide and school shootings, physical child abuse, sexual abuse, emotional and psychological abuse, sibling abuse, criminal acts such as assault and battery by strangers, being drawn into the drug addiction world and victimized, sex trafficking, kidnapping, bullying,  corporal punishment in schools (20 states still sanction acts of violence hurting children that they euphemistically rationalize as discipline), and finally—mass murder, the ultimate victimization.

Huge Social Changes Are Coming

In light of the terrible tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut there has been a very much needed response to the events that occurred there. Consequently, President Barack Obama took the reins of leadership and took quick action to develop a viable plan to stem gun violence in this country.

I feel that given the public’s support for gun control, and the public’s emotional reaction to what happened at Sandy Hook Elementary School, the timing is right for expanding our efforts to prevent all violence directed against children. But, as a society, we really do need, as the old cliché says, to think outside the box. Our way of solving problems at every governmental level in this country is, all-too-often, fragmented.

Nowhere is this more evident than where violence and children are concerned. For society to address doing a better job of protecting children—social change must be embraced if the goal of preventing all violence against children is to ever become a reality.

However, as one can easily see, the real dangers that can potentially victimize children include more than the tragedies fostered by mass murder. Therefore, an opportunity now presents itself to explore and recommend, at every level of government, policy and legislative proposals to seriously confront all the real dangers children may confront as they make that journey from infancy to adulthood.

Focus of Part I

Part I will report on the President’s current plan to address the issue of gun violence. It must be pointed out this series is oriented toward protecting children. Nevertheless, the implications of a viably enacted set of laws and executive decisions to gain better and more effective control of guns affects everyone from the ordinary citizen to the most violent of criminal offenders.

Gun Violence

The Research Issue on Gun Violence

It has been reported that President Barack Obama lifted a 17-year ban on U.S. funding for research on gun violence, instructing the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to step up its support for such work. But his request for Congress to approve $10 million for research on several aspects of violence prevention—including a look at the effects of video games and media images—could face stiff resistance among advocates of gun ownership.

Lifting the ban is one of 23 new actions, including a series of legislative proposals, to curb gun violence that the White House announced in the wake of last month’s shooting of children and teachers at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut.

Among other goals, the president said he aims to require a “universal background check” for everyone buying a gun (about 40% of gun sales are not covered now), a prohibition on the sale of “military-style assault weapons,” a ban on high-capacity ammunition magazines that can hold more than 10 bullets, and a push for better mental health care.

CDC’s funding of research on gun violence peaked at about $2.6 million in 1996. The results included findings such as the observation that homicides are significantly more likely to occur in households where a gun is kept. The NRA gun lobby pressured Congress to stop this line of inquiry, and in the mid-1990s legislators issued a series of advisory messages and some legal restrictions on agency actions.

Today’s news is “a terrific development,” says Jens Ludwig, director of the University of Chicago research center known as the Crime Lab. Ludwig is a co-author of a letter signed by more than 100 academics that calls for an end to the ban on gun violence research. In an e-mail to Science Insider, he says, “Without support for data and research in this area, it is very difficult to know which policy changes are most likely to generate net improvements in public safety that can justify the costs involved.”

A Few Facts You Should Know

Since 1982, there have been at least 62 mass shootings across the country. The killings took place all over the country from Massachusetts to Hawaii. Twenty-four of these mass shootings took place since 2006. In 2012 alone there were seven mass shootings. Below is a chronology that details mass shootings that have occurred between April 1999 (Columbine) and December 14, 2012 (Newtown, Connecticut).

Dozens of mass killings have occurred in the United States since two teenagers went on a rampage at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado in April of 1999, killing 12 of their fellow students and a teacher. The deadly school shooting at a Newtown, Connecticut elementary school on Friday, December 14, 2012 was the latest in a series of shooting crimes in the United States.

The following is a detailed list of mass killings in the United States since Columbine compiled by Telegraph, Reuters, and Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

April 1999
– two teenage schoolboys shot and killed 12 schoolmates and a teacher at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado, before killing themselves.

July 1999 – a stock exchange trader in Atlanta, Georgia, killed 12 people including his wife and two children before taking his own life.

September 1999 – a gunman opened fire at a prayer service in Fort Worth, Texas, killing six people before committing suicide.

October 2002 – a series of sniper-style shootings occurred in Washington DC, leaving 10 dead.

August 2003 – in Chicago, a laid-off worker shot and killed six of his former workmates.

November 2004 – [There is perhaps great irony where Second Amendment Rights are concerned when this happened]. In Birchwood, Wisconsin, a hunter killed six other hunters and wounded two others after an argument with them.

March 2005 – a man opened fire at a church service in Brookfield, Wisconsin, killing seven people.

October 2006 – a truck driver killed five schoolgirls and seriously wounded six others in a school in Nickel Mines, Pennsylvania before taking his own life.

April 2007 – student Seung-Hui Cho shot and killed 32 people and wounded 15 others at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, Virginia, before shooting himself, making it the deadliest mass shooting in the United States after 2000.

August 2007 – Three Delaware State University students were shot and killed in “execution style” by a 28-year-old and two 15-year-old boys. A fourth student was shot and stabbed.

December 2007 – a 20-year-old man killed nine people and injured five others in a shopping center in Omaha, Nebraska.

December 2007 –
a woman and her boyfriend shot dead six members of her family on Christmas Eve in Carnation, Washington.

February 2008 – a shooter who is still at large tied up and shot six women at a suburban clothing store in Chicago, leaving five of them dead and the remaining one injured.

February 2008 – a man opened fire in a lecture hall at Northern Illinois University in DeKalb, Illinois, killing five students and wounding 16 others before laying down his weapon and surrendering.

September 2008
– a mentally ill man who was released from jail one month earlier shot eight people in Alger, Washington, leaving six of them dead and the rest two wounded.

December 2008 – a man dressed in a Santa Claus suit opened fire at a family Christmas party in Covina, California, then set fire on the house and killed himself. Police later found nine people dead in the debris of the house.

March 2009 – a 28-year-old laid-off worker opened fire while driving a car through several towns in Alabama, killing 10 people.

March 2009 – a heavily armed gunman shot dead eight people, many of them elderly and sick, in a private-owned nursing home in North Carolina.

March 2009 – six people were shot dead in a high-grade apartment building in Santa Clara, California.

April 2009 – a man shot dead 13 people at a civic center in Binghamton, New York.

July 2009 – Six people, including one student, were shot in a drive-by shooting at a community rally on the campus of Texas Southern University, Houston.

November 2009 – U.S. army psychologist Major Nidal Hasan opened fire at a military base in Fort Hood, Texas, leaving 13 dead and 42 others wounded.

February 2010 – A professor opened fire 50 minutes into at a Biological Sciences Department faculty meeting at the University of Alabama in Huntsville, killing three colleagues and wounding three others.

January 2011 – a gunman opened fire at a public gathering outside a grocery in Tucson, Arizona, killing six people including a 9-year-old girl and wounding at least 12 others. Congresswoman Gabrielle Gifford was severely injured with a gunshot to the head.



April 2 – A gunman kills seven people and wounds three in a shooting rampage at a Christian college in Oakland.

July 20 – A masked gunman kills 12 people and wounds 58 when he opens fire on moviegoers at a showing of the Batman film “The Dark Knight Rises” in Aurora, a suburb of Denver, Colorado.

Aug. 5 – A gunman kills six people during Sunday services at a Sikh temple in Oak Creek, Wisconsin, before he is shot dead by a police officer.

Aug. 24 – Two people are killed and eight wounded in a shooting outside the landmark Empire State Building in New York City at the height of the tourist season.

Sept. 27 – A disgruntled former employee kills five people and takes his own life in a shooting rampage at a Minneapolis sign company from which he had been fired.

Oct. 21 – Three people are killed in a Milwaukee area spa including the estranged wife of the suspected gunman, who then killed himself.

Dec. 14 – A shooter opens fire at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, involving the cold-blooded mass murder of 20 children and six adults.

President Obama Puts Forth his Plan

     Since the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown Connecticut, on December 14, 2012, there has become much renewed interest in gun control. It seems to this observer that what the President has proposed is a kind of targeted, focused solution to the problem of gun violence. Thus, he put forward a plan that centers on guns and the people who use them in these mass murders. But policy also centers more broadly on criminal violence everywhere guns are used in the commission of a crime. The emphasis of these gun control policies goes back to my typology of violence, in this case—individual violence.

The proposal, which comes at the end of a month-long review process spearheaded by Vice President Joe Biden, is broken down into four sections:

  • Law Enforcement
  • Availability of dangerous Firearms and Ammunition
  • School Safety
  • Mental Health


In an effort to touch on all four of those elements, the president recommended requiring criminal background checks for all gun sales; reinstating the assault weapons ban; restoring a 10-round limit on ammunition magazines; eliminating armor-piercing bullets; providing mental health services in schools; allocating funds to hire more police officers; and instituting a federal gun trafficking statute, among other policies. The cost of the package, senior officials estimated, would be roughly $500 million, some of which could come from already budgeted funds.

Because these recommendations require congressional approval, the administration is supplementing its proposal with 23 executive actions that will be taken immediately. Those actions include requiring federal agencies to hand over relevant data for a background check system; providing law enforcement officials, first responders and school officials with better training for active shooting situations; directing the Centers for Disease Control to research the causes and prevention of gun violence; and many more.

What’s in Obama’s Gun Control Proposal?

The following material was obtained from a news report of the New York Times. It basically laid out all of the specifics of the President’s new plan to stem gun violence. The initiative to reduce gun violence announced by President Obama  included both legislative proposals that would need to be acted on by Congress and executive actions he can do on his own. Many of the executive actions involve the president directing agencies to do a better job of sharing information.


Proposed Congressional Actions

  • Requiring criminal background checks for all gun sales, including those by private sellers that currently are exempt.
  • Reinstating and strengthening the ban on assault weapons that was in place from 1994 to 2004.
  • Limiting ammunition magazines to 10 rounds.
  • Banning the possession of armor-piercing bullets by anyone other than members of the military and law enforcement.
  • Increasing criminal penalties for “straw purchasers,” people who pass the required background check to buy a gun on behalf of someone else.
  • Acting on a $4 billion administration proposal to help keep 15,000 police officers on the street.
  • Confirming President Obama’s nominee for director of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.
  • Eliminating a restriction that requires the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives to allow the importation of weapons that are more than 50 years old.
  • Financing programs to train more police officers, first responders and school officials on how to respond to active armed attacks.
  • Providing additional $20 million to help expand the system that tracks violent deaths across the nation from 18 states to 50 states.
  • Providing $30 million in grants to states to help schools develop emergency response plans.
  • Providing financing to expand mental health programs for young people.


Executive actions

  • Issuing a presidential memorandum to require federal agencies to make relevant data available to the federal background check system.
  • Addressing unnecessary legal barriers, particularly relating to the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, which may prevent states from making information available to the background check system.
  • Improving incentives for states to share information with the background check system.
  • Directing the attorney general to review categories of individuals prohibited from having a gun to make sure dangerous people are not slipping through the cracks.
  • Proposing a rule making to give law enforcement authorities the ability to run a full background check on an individual before returning a seized gun.
  • Publishing a letter from the A.T.F. to federally licensed gun dealers providing guidance on how to run background checks for private sellers.
  • Starting a national safe and responsible gun ownership campaign.
  • Reviewing safety standards for gun locks and gun safes (Consumer Product Safety Commission).
  • Issuing a presidential memorandum to require federal law enforcement to trace guns recovered in criminal investigations.
  • Releasing a report analyzing information on lost and stolen guns and making it widely available to law enforcement authorities.
  • Nominating an A.T.F. director.
  • Providing law enforcement authorities, first responders and school officials with proper training for armed attack situations.
  • Maximizing enforcement efforts to prevent gun violence and prosecute gun crime.
  • Issuing a presidential memorandum directing the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to research gun violence.
  • Directing the attorney general to issue a report on the availability and most effective use of new gun-safety technologies and challenging the private sector to develop innovative technologies.
  • Clarify that the Affordable Care Act does not prohibit doctors asking their patients about guns in their homes.
  • Releasing a letter to health care providers clarifying that no federal law prohibits them from reporting threats of violence to law enforcement authorities.
  • Providing incentives for schools to hire school resource officers.
  • Developing model emergency response plans for schools, houses of worship and institutions of higher education.
  • Releasing a letter to state health officials clarifying the scope of mental health services that Medicaid plans must cover.
  • Finalizing regulations clarifying essential health benefits and parity requirements within insurance exchanges.
  • Committing to finalizing mental health parity regulations.
  • Starting a national dialogue on mental health led by Kathleen Sebelius, the Secretary of Health and Human Services, and Arne Duncan, the Secretary of Education.


Post Script

     In Part II ahead I will begin to provide statistical evidence on violence against children in those areas in which data are collected. One of the major areas of abuse against children is physical abuse, sexual abuse, emotional abuse, and the neglect of children. Sibling abuse is difficult to measure and there exists no standardized data collection system. Survey research may be the only way to look at its prevalence.

In Part III of the series, sex trafficking of children, corporal punishment in American schools, the problems of bullying, kidnapping and other crimes perpetrated against children will be covered.

Part IV in my series will examine any types of abuse not covered earlier, and I will put forth a set of recommendations on how to deal with violence directed against children beyond the current ones proposed to stem gun violence. However, I did notice that, where gun violence is concerned, several former, disgruntled employees were involved in killing family members and former co-workers back at the work site. I did not see any legislative or executive actions or recommendations related to what employers could do, or what their responsibility might be to help discharged employees. I will say more about this in my recommendations in Part IV.         



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