Morning Zen

Is It Possible to Reduce School Shootings– Without Gun Control?

June 08, 2022

Is it possible to reduce school shootings without gun control? Yes, of course. And that means that the gun industry should put up a great deal of money to prevent violence—much more than thoughts and prayers. Right now, the burden to prevent such school violence is being borne by school districts and schools themselves. Schools don’t have enough money to pay for educational books and trainings. Parents and educators themselves should not bear the cost of such violence prevention.

Forbes Magazine reported, “in 2020, firearms deaths replaced motor vehicle accidents as the leading cause of death for Americans ages 1 to 19, according to an analysis of Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data published in the New England Journal of Medicine last week. Meanwhile, the FBI’s number of active shooter incidents jumped from 30 in 2019 to 40 in 2020 and 61 in 2021, and total mass shootings were also up in the first two years of the pandemic.” 

In the 1970s, my original prevention science work involved protecting children’s automobile injuries. Today, there are extensive protections in modern vehicles to reduce injury and death, but no universal equivalent of crush zones, airbags, 3-point safety belts, child car seats, bike helmets, bake up cameras, etc. exist to protect children and educators from guns in schools—particularly semi-automatic firearms.  

But how do we protect kids and educators in schools when somebody fires 800 rounds per minute on full automatic? Unless you are at war, that is a killing machine, not a defensive machine. My paternal great-grandfather was an enslaved person before the Civil War, escaping to the Free State of Kansas to become a Union Soldier. When my father was a child, he brandished a toy gun. My great-grandfather smacked the toy gun out my nine-year-old father’s hand with his cane, saying: “Son, don’t you ever point a gun at anything or anyone—lessen you be aiming to kill ’em.” 

Truth be told, there be too much killin’ of our children and others. But selling killing machines is good business, especially if you are a “free-will” descendant of Cain. It’s not so good for the Abel’s of the world or the children of Abel. The Church of Cain kills—for money. Americans bought 41 million guns in 2019-2021, and not much was for foraging for food. Of course, the more people buy guns, the more people want to buy more guns.

In the 1990s, my colleagues and I reduced medically coded violent injuries in schools and self-reported carrying guns [1-3]. We never talked about guns or other weapons. We did not search for bullies or the “bad” kids. We created a positive classroom/school culture. It worked. Over time, we have further refined the protective recipe. Oh, and that also improves every indicator of academic and psychological wellbeing that lasts for decades—without meds—in the longitudinal studies.

In the 1950-70s, the arms race created mutually assured destruction. Two guys—Reagan and Gorbachev—ended much of that madness almost 40 years ago. We need lifetime assured peace, productivity, health, and wellbeing for each classroom. As it turns out, the cost of protecting a whole classroom of students from such lifetime violence at school, at home, and in the community [3-8] costs less than one child’s prescription for a month for problematic behavior. The metaphor is similar to wearing seatbelts versus reconstructive facial surgery after going through a windshield due to not wearing a seatbelt.  

When all students feel safe and competent, they don’t pick on each other, don’t bring weapons to school, and don’t fire weapons at school to shoot others. 

How do we know this? There are many proven behavioral health studies that you can read about for free at By the way, every Surgeon General since the 1990s has recommended the same early primary grade strategy to reduce violence. It’s not instant, but it does have lifetime benefits for everybody—except the school, gun to prison pipeline. And this is not the only strategy to have safer classrooms, schools, neighborhoods, and communities. But, this is easy to do and fast-acting.

This prevention strategy implemented in elementary schools has lifetime benefits for the students (shown in the graphic), their current families, communities, and protective benefits for when they have children. That means inter-generational safety and well-being for all of us.

P.S. But what about current or potential violent juvenile offenders now? Yes, the same principles can be applied, which we did with violent male teen offenders on parole. Normally, 80% of those youth offenders re-offended within 3-months of parole. We reversed that, with 80% of those violent youth did NOT recidivate, and they got jobs. The level of practical science to reverse such violence is staggering—without talking about guns. But good science is not a political taunt or 30-second soundbite. 

I’m happy to talk with people who want real change. For the price of several AR-15 guns, ammo, and armor, you can create the proven prevention results for an average elementary school—based on decades of precision, medical-grade studies around the world.


  1. Embry, D.D., et al., Peacebuilders: a theoretically driven, school-based model for early violence prevention. American Journal of Preventive Medicine, 1996. 12(5 Suppl): p. 91-100.
  2. Flannery, D.J., et al., Initial behavior outcomes for the peacebuilders universal school-based violence prevention program. Developmental Psychology, 2003. 39(2): p. 292-308.
  3. Krug, E.G., et al., The impact of an elementary school-based violence prevention program on visits to the school nurse. American Journal of Preventive Medicine, 1997. 13(6): p. 459-63.
  4. Petras, H., et al., Utility of TOCA-R scores during the elementary school years in identifying later violence among adolescent males. Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, 2004. 43(1): p. 88-96.
  5. Kellam, S.G., et al., “The effect of the level of aggression in the first grade classroom on the course and malleability of aggressive behavior into middle school”: Erratum. Development & Psychopathology, 1999. 11(1): p. 193.
  6. Petras, H., K. Masyn, and N. Ialongo, The developmental impact of two first grade preventive interventions on aggressive/disruptive behavior in childhood and adolescence: an application of latent transition growth mixture modeling. Prev Sci, 2011. 12(3): p. 300-13.
  7. Kellam, S.G., et al., The good behavior game and the future of prevention and treatment. Addict Sci Clin Pract, 2011. 6(1): p. 73-84.
  8. Kellam, S.G., et al., The Impact of the Good Behavior Game, a Universal Classroom-Based Preventive Intervention in First and Second Grades, on High-Risk Sexual Behaviors and Drug Abuse and Dependence Disorders into Young Adulthood. Prev Sci, 2012.
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About the Author

Dennis Embry

Dr. Embry is an internationally noted prevention scientist and child and developmental psychologist. He is president/senior scientist at PAXIS Institute in Tucson, AZ., the scientific advisor to the Children’s Mental Health Network, and a member of the Advisory Council for the U.S. Center for Mental Health Services.

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