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JOHN EGGERS COLUMN: Guns, mental health and counseling kids

The more guns a country owns, the more deaths will occur from guns. That’s a fact. We can’t deny it.

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If we were really serious about reducing the number of kids killed by kids, we would do what Japan has done.

Japan boasts a population of more than 127 million people, yet finished in 2019 with a gun death rate of only .02 per 100,000 people. (In the U.S. it is 11.9.) One major factor in this success is that Japan has some of the strictest gun laws in the world.

For Japanese citizens to purchase a gun, they must attend an all-day class, pass a written exam and complete a shooting range test, scoring at least 95% accuracy. Candidates also must have a mental health evaluation performed at a hospital, and have a comprehensive background check done by the government. Only shotguns and rifles can be purchased. The class and exam must be retaken every three years.

Here is another gun-related fact that bears repeating and repeating. The more guns a country owns, the more deaths will occur from guns. That’s a fact. We can’t deny it. If you want to reduce the number of deaths in a country due to firearms, reduce the number of firearms. That also is a fact.

The U.S. has a population of 326 billion but we own 393 billion guns. We have more guns in the United States than we have people. Next to Brazil in 2019 the United States had the second-highest number of gun deaths with 37,038.

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If you want to reduce your chances of being shot, move to a state that has the fewest number of firearms. In Massachusetts just 14% per 100 people have a gun and they also have the least number of deaths due to guns.

We can’t ignore the fact that it is easy for kids to get guns. Since we don’t take gun ownership seriously in the United States, educators have to worry about safety. It would be nice if school administrators could expect Americans to use common sense when it comes to gun ownership but they can’t because when it comes to guns, Americans use no common sense; we are totally irresponsible. You could say we are dumb as a fence post, ignorant and irresponsible but stupid is probably the best word.

When it comes to having more guns at the expense of lost lives, we choose guns. This goes for all Americans. We are all in this together, we are all to blame. We cherish guns more than the lives of our children. When given the choice between saving 37,000 lives a year as opposed to saving all of our guns, we choose our firearms.

I don’t want to get into the firearm debate. I am a gun owner. I have hunted all of my life. I have sold at gun shows. I enjoy talking to fellow hunters who are, for the most part, law abiding, safety first, level headed people. I respect guns used in a sporting way whether they are used for hunting, target shooting or skeet shooting. The fact remains, however, Americans are irresponsible gun owners.

Let’s talk about kids who need help. One of the biggest challenges of school administrators in the past two decades, really since the Columbine High School shooting in 1999, has been school safety. It’s always at the top of the list of school administrators' minds and they spend countless hours ensuring that kids, boys and girls, of all ages, can come to school without fear.

Kids who kill kids have serious mental health issues. But don’t we have school psychologists and school counselors? The American School Counselor Association (ASCA) recommends that schools maintain a ratio of 250 students per school counselor, and that school counselors spend at least 80% of their time working directly with or indirectly for students. Minnesota's school-counselor-to-student ratio is far from meeting this best practice, with a reported ratio of 743 students per licensed school counselor (ASCA, 2016).

Here are a few suggestions for my colleagues on how to improve the counseling for kids dilemma. Most, if not all, high schools have some sort of advisor/advisee program where students are assigned to a teacher and that teacher meets with them for a few minutes each morning.

Suggestion one: Why not have students pick their advisors rather than have teachers select the students? Give students a choice of three teachers they would like to have. Give the students who really need a close advisor their first choice. Students are more likely to talk with someone they can trust and who they enjoy being around.

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Suggestion two: There should be time when a teacher can schedule one-on-one sessions with a student. If we can schedule parents for a one-on-one time with teachers, we can do the same with students. It is that important.

Suggestion three: If educators cannot find time to deal with all of the students, select those that are in most need of help and deal more closely with those students. There is usually one or two teachers who know these kids and can talk to them. Assign those kids to that teacher as their personal counselor.

Suggestion four: There are numerous retired teachers who, if given the opportunity, might volunteer to be a counselor for a student. They have the experience and if they choose to do so, they have the desire. We need to tap the experience and expertise of our retired teachers more than we do.

Suggestion five: When kids find a niche in school, they do better socially, emotionally and academically. The kids who need the most help are not the ones who are involved in school. Why? Because school for them has more meaning. Let's do a better job of finding something outside of the classroom for kids to hang on to. Clubs, sports, drama, music, art -- there has to be something that will make school more purposeful.

You know, just because we are stupid when it comes to guns, that doesn’t mean we can’t become smarter when it comes to helping kids with issues. Do you suppose we could become smarter when it comes to guns, too?

Riddle: My riddle for you today is why can’t Americans feel the same way about preserving the lives of students than we do about preserving guns? (I have no answer for you.)

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Thanks to Black Bear Dentistry for being the most recent to support our 100% graduation rate initiative.

John R. Eggers of Bemidji is a former university professor and area principal. He also is a writer and public speaker.

Related Topics: EDUCATION
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