We Better Be Out There Marching to End the Trauma
By: Andrea Blanch and Mariana Chilton
We claim to be a social movement of people committed to eliminating the causes and addressing the consequences of violence and trauma. If we are serious, we need to be out there marching on Saturday.
To date, our movement has largely focused on Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) – ten common forms of childhood adversity such as neglect, abuse, and having an incarcerated family member that increase risk for a host of health and social problems. Other forms of “toxic stress” such as poverty and racism are mentioned, but have not yet drawn the same level of attention. And outside of some urban efforts, very little has been said about gun violence.
The youth who organized March for Our Lives are telling us to PAY ATTENTION. What could be more traumatic than being shot at, watching friends and relatives being gunned down, knowing that something could be done but that adults refuse to act?
Whether we are talking about school shootings or young people of color being gunned down by police or by others in their own neighborhoods, gun violence is an epidemic that is destroying lives, and may very well be destroying the future of our society. For every young life lost, there are hundreds - maybe thousands - of friends and relatives and neighbors and schoolmates traumatized by the event. Research has shown convincingly that toxic stress and trauma are additive, and that for every increment in cumulative trauma there is a measurable increase in risk for mental health and substance use, chronic health problems, school failure, homelessness and unemployment. No one has yet calculated the overall social cost of trauma inflicted by gun violence, but it is clearly astronomical.
We have all seen the statistics. More Americans have died in firearm-related incidents since 1968 than in all wars in US history. Gun violence and mass shootings are uniquely a US problem, and are strongly related to the supply of guns, including weapons designed to kill as many people as quickly possible. These types of violence are not the only source of trauma in our society, but they are significant contributors. If we don’t stop gun violence soon, the trauma experienced by our kids and our communities may magnify beyond control.
The student leaders of March for Our Lives are right – we adults have failed them. The students provide us leadership, but we also have a role to play. We have resources, access to policymakers, and wisdom gained from decades of political action. We can help them understand how to build resilience and networks of support, how to negotiate in a world where trauma prevents rational decision-making, and how to influence Congress.
We can follow the students’ lead and demand common sense gun reforms. Assault weapons have no place in a healthy society. No one has the “right” to stockpile an arsenal of dangerous weapons. Age restrictions are just common sense. Guns do not belong in the hands of domestic violence offenders or people who have threatened hate crimes. There is no shortage of solutions - only of political will.
But gun reform is only part of the change needed. Our movement can and must demand policies to prevent all forms of violence and toxic stress and to support resilience-building and trauma healing. We can and must demand that every child has what they need to grow to their full potential. It’s the least we can do for the young people who are trying to lead us out of the darkness.
Andrea Blanch, PhD, and Mariana Chilton, PhD, MPH, are board members of the Campaign for Trauma-Informed Policy and Practice.