Las Vegas Sun

September 17, 2019

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Experts’ call to action on gun violence deserves national attention

When an open letter on gun violence from psychologists and other child development experts popped up on one of her list-serves, Shantal Marshall felt compelled to sign onto it on both a professional and personal level.

Marshall, an assistant professor of psychology at Nevada State College in Las Vegas, said in an email that her experience with Oct. 1 survivors and others who were affected by the shooting prompted her to read the letter and add her name in support of the solutions it offers for gun safety.

“Many of my own students were at the event, knew someone at the event, or had family working in the area and experienced real, psychological distress after spending hours not knowing if their friends and family members were dead or alive,” she said. “We did our best at NSC to give them space and people with whom to process their emotions, and to realize just how affected they were. That distress didn’t end once they found out their loved ones were safe. Many had, and still likely have, fears when their loved ones go to public events or go to work at public events.”

Marshall said that while much of the focus in the media was on the 58 people who were killed in the shooting, the effects of the horrible incident extended throughout the community.

“The effects of gun violence on the national psyche are real, and it’s time that we talk about that as much as we talk about those who paid the ultimate price of losing their lives,” she said.

That’s exactly right. Marshall and the nearly 800 others who signed the letter did something commendable in getting behind the message.

Today, the Sun presents the text of the letter, which was submitted this month on the anniversary of the Parkland shooting, to bring it to the attention of state leaders and the community. We believe the recommendations it offers are well worth repeating, especially given that the signees include faculty members from many of the nation’s most elite universities.

The letter reads as follows:

In the wake of Sandy Hook, UC Santa Barbara, Oregon, Las Vegas, Parkland, and Thousand Oaks, children face the tangible threat of gun violence in the places that they should feel the most safe. The thousands of children who are shot each year aren’t the only victims. All children are harmed by the constant shadow of violence. One year after the Parkland shootings, little has changed. This must end.

We know from a large body of psychological, biological and sociological research that stress and trauma carry enormous risks, especially when, like the threat of gun violence, they are unrelenting, uncontrollable and chronic. These risks include depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder. Constant threats of violence can impair children’s neurological, social and cognitive development.

We are psychologists and developmental scientists sounding the alarm on the damage this constant threat of violence is having on the children of our nation. We are failing to protect our children, and we must do better, in the interest of our children’s right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

We are calling for the following actions:

(1) National policies that require health care professionals to report patients with a propensity for violence to gun licensing agencies, just as they are required to report patients who can no longer drive safely to the Department of Motor Vehicles.

(2) Restrictions on the sales of assault rifles, large clips, bump stocks, and armor piercing-bullets.

(3) Policies for safe storage of guns. Parents who own guns must invest in locked storage, so that their children cannot have unauthorized access.

(4) The removal of our financial support from assault weapons manufacturers.

(5) Public accountability for those who prioritize the financial needs of weapons manufacturers over the safety and well-being of this nation’s children, from the manufacturers themselves to their lobbyists to the politicians who take their money.