APA task force report: Gun violence can be reduced

By National Psychologist Staff
January 15, 2014

APA task force report: Gun violence can be reducedA task force of the American Psychological Association studying gun violence determined that while there is no specific profile to predict who will use a gun in a violent act, there are effective ways to reduce gun violence in America.

The report, “Gun Violence: Prediction, Prevention, and Policy,” was prepared by a task force established last February in the wake of shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School last December and the July 2012 shootings at a movie theater in Aurora, Colo.

The findings released Dec. 12 included five major pronouncements:

* That establishing behavioral threat assessment teams of trained experts who can gather information to determine whether a person is on a path to violence is the most effective tool currently available to prevent episodes of mass violence.

* For those at risk of committing violent acts, access to mental health services can prevent their committing actual violence, but exclusively focusing on mental health issues will not solve the problem.

* A focus on family and community environments to promote healthy development and a continuum of care for troubled individuals is needed to intercept propensities for violence that can begin early in life.

* Early intervention with at-risk families can improve parenting skills and disrupt the pathway from early-onset aggression to violence.

* A comprehensive, coordinated approach is needed at the community level to use the training and skills of law enforcement, educators and mental health providers to reduce gun violence.

The report said, “In making predictions about the risk for mass shootings, there is no consistent psychological profile or set of warning signs that can be used reliably to identify such individuals in the general population.”

But, the report said, behavioral threat assessment to identify and intervene with individuals who have communicated threats of violence or engaged in behavior that indicates preparation to commit a violent act is the most promising approach at the individual level.

The experts said there is evidence that prohibiting firearms for high-risk individuals has reduced violence and measures such as licensing handgun purchases, background checks for all gun sales and close supervision of gun retailers can reduce the diversion of guns to criminals.

There is need for better funded research with better access to gun-related administrative data to identify potential prevention strategies, the report said, but noted that “political actions” have stunted such research, which would allow determining the most effective strategies as a scientific question to be settled by evidence.

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