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Study: Many parents uninformed on school gun violence

In the wake of last month’s school shooting in Parkland, Fla., there is no shortage of opinions about how best to protect America’s schools.

By now, you know the arguments: Stricter gun control, better mental healthcare, metal detectors, armed guards in schools, armed teachers even; the list goes on.

But while the national conversation over school gun violence rages, at least one recent study suggests school districts and parents continue to have different perceptions of the problem and could benefit from clearer conversations on the subject.

The study, published last summer in the Journal of Community Health, asked parents of students about their perceptions relative to gun violence in schools.

Researchers identified clear discrepancies between the reality of school gun violence and parents’ perceptions of the problem.

What follows are key important takeaways from the research.

1. Parents’ perceptions of school gun violence differ from reality

According to the study, one-third of parents believed their child’s school was more than likely to have an incidence of gun violence in the next three years. This perception stands in contrast to the fact that less than 5 percent of gun violence involving students occurs on school grounds.

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A majority of parents listed poor parenting, bullying, or inadequate youth healthcare as the top causes of school gun violence.

But, in an interview with Deseret News InDepth, researcher Jagdish Khubchandani said the research does not agree. “Gun violence is a major issue among parents, but they often have limited understanding of potentially effective interventions,” Khubchandani says.

In particular, Khubchandani says the idea that better mental health services will prevent school violence is misinformed. “Nationwide studies find children in the United States who have mental illness are responsible for less than 5 percent of all violence,” he says.

2. Districts and parents need to talk more about gun violence

Less than 20 percent of parents said they’ve expressed their opinions about school security measures, including the prospect of arming teachers, to school administrators.

Such admissions point to a glaring need for school districts to engage parents and empower them to speak out ahead of critical policy decisions.

3. More research on parent perception is needed

The study’s researchers were able to cite just two studies that examine parents’ perceptions on school gun violence.

Clearly, more work has to be done to understand how parents are informed and engaged about school firearm safety. Without this research, psychologists, safety experts, and school leaders are operating in the dark.

The report concludes:

“Future research should certainly engage parents, school personnel, and community stakeholders (e.g. law enforcement officials) to design effective strategies for prevention and reduction of firearm violence in youth.”

School districts can lead this research through their own surveys and conversations.

As the national debate on school safety continues, it’s imperative for school district leaders to understand parent perceptions about school gun violence–and to think of ways to keep families and others informed and involved.

How does your school or district gauge parent perceptions about school safety? Have you had a conversation with your community about gun violence? Tell us in the comments.