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Gun violence, mass shootings linked to adverse childhood experiences (ACE)

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By The Rev. Charles Winburn, M.Ed. 

Former Cincinnati City Councilman  

Executive Pastor of Renew Community Church 

The Rev. Charles Winburn. Photo provided

During my 36 years of pastoral counseling and working with hundreds of people, I have learned that 90% of their life challenges as adults were linked directly to negative childhood life experiences that happened between birth and age 18, that never were resolved. 

As a result of this extensive pastoral counseling, I will publish a book in the near future titled 68 Quick Seconds to a Focused Life This book will help adults know how to eliminate negative childhood experiences, negative beliefs, negative emotions and negative memories so they can learn techniques to effectively focus on what they really want in life. 

Dr. Bruce Lipton states in his book, The Biology of Belief” and his YouTube video “How We Are Negatively Programmed at Birth to Seven Years of Age,” that the subconscious mind—which consists of one’s beliefs, emotions and memories—makes up 95% of a person’s decisions and is often negatively programmed. 

I interpret Lipton’s research to mean that from birth to age 7, 70of a child’s negative programming comes from parents, guardians or trustees and, in some cases, teachers and peers. If these negative beliefs, emotions and memories are not resolved prior to age 18, they are usually carried over into adulthood and, in most cases, create life crises for these adults.  

I am convinced that these negative adverse childhood experiences or factors contribute to more negative spiritual, health, mental, financial and relationship outcomes in adulthood if not addressed.  

In other words, an adult’s constant struggle with these negative childhood factors is a very strong indicator that they were not resolved prior to age 18. According to Rick MurdockMichigan ACE coordinator, most mass shooters had one or more adverse childhood experiences (ACE). 

In addition, an adverse childhood experiences study also proves my point that all major adulthood challenges are associated with adverse childhood experiences as documented or substantiated in The Adverse Childhood Experience 10-Point Questionnaire. 

The adverse childhood study was conducted by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention in 1998. More than 17,000 middle-class and upper class participants were involved in the landmark study and these studies have been expanded in recent years.  

According to the Journal of Prevention & Intervention in the Community,” Vol. 40, No. 4 (2012), “The ACE score is calculated from the number of ‘yes’ responses to questions about each of 10 ACE categories (not incidents) that include emotional, physical, and sexual abuse, emotional and physical neglect, witnessing domestic violence, growing up with mentally ill or substance abusing household members, loss of a parent, or having a household member incarcerated. Similarly, measures of health and social outcomes were gathered from numerous public health survey instruments to cast a “wide net” of potential outcomes (Anda et al., 2006; Anda, Butchart, Felitti, & Brown, 2010; Dube et al., 2004; Felitti et al., 1998). The ACE study demonstrated that the 10 ACE categories often co-occur. Moreover, an extensive body of peer-reviewed research generated from the study demonstrates powerful “dose-response” relationships between the ACE score and a wide array of health and social problems throughout a person’s lifespan (Anda et al., 2006; Dong, Anda, Dube, Giles, & Felitti, 2003; Felitti et al., 1998; www.cdc.gov/ace).” 

Based on my research, gun violence should not be classified as a mental illness, but should be accepted as an adverse childhood experience classification. However, if a potential perpetrator of gun violence is not properly treated, it may create a mental crisis, just like any issue not corrected in a person’s life. 

An August 1, 2019, white paper titled Youth Exposure to Violence Involving a Gun (Rajan, Branas, Myers, & Agrawal) provides for an adverse childhood experience classification.  

According to the Academy on Violence and Abuse, “Traumatized individuals who may be at increased risk to commit acts of gun violence do not always display psychiatric disorder that would bring them to the attention of authorities or mental health care systems. They more often commit other acts of violence like domestic violence or community violence.” 

In summary, gun violence is linked to a combination of four adverse childhood experiences: 

  1. In Dr. Bruce Lipton’s research on programming from parents, guardians or trustees, the first seven years of a child’s life are the most important, and this is where they can learn racism, hate, bullying and anger or they can learn love, joy, peace and happiness. Often, 70 percent of this programming by parents during this period is a negative. 
  1. Based on the Adverse Childhood Experience 10-Point Questionnaire, four or more adverse childhood experiences from ages 1 to 18 is a serious-enough indicator that a person may need professional help. In my opinion, if an adolescent has not resolved adverse childhood experiences prior to age 18—racism against others, bullying, violence against others, hate and crimes against others, domestic violence—this adolescent may resort to gun violence as an option.  
  1. Unmet needs, unhealed hurts and unresolved issues (such as trauma) from birth to age 18 put a person at exposure to committing acts of gun violence. (“Opinion: Link Between Shootings and Childhood Trauma Warrants Research,” Rick Murdock, The Detroit News,’’ August 18, 2019) 
  1. According to the research of Rajan, Branas, Myers and Agrawal in their August 2019 white paper, youth exposure to violence involving a gun is evidence for adverse childhood experience classification. The research further reveals gun violence is a persistent public health issue in the U.S. Each year, approximately 100,000 Americans are injured with a firearm, with more than 17,000 of these individuals being children 18 years old and younger (Center for Disease Control and Prevention, 2016). 

This white paper provides the following conclusions: 

  1. Gun violence should be included as an ACE screening tool. Research has demonstrated that youths who witnessed a friend and/or family member being injured or shot within the past two years are more likely to experience symptoms of trauma (Turner et al., 2018).  
  1. The definition of gun violence exposure should include injury, witnessing, hearing gunshots, and/or knowing a friend or family member who was shot. 
  1. Such screenings should be expanded to increase their reach. I urge our Gov. Mike DeWine to take leadership for this in Ohio. 

As Gov. DeWine and the Ohio General Assembly work to find alternatives to reduce and eliminate gun violence in our state, I hope they will consider my recommendations: 

  • Establish statewide adverse childhood experience screening to identify and prevent gun violence. Research shows that more than half of people have one or more adverse childhood experiences. In a national sample, nearly two-thirds of adults reported at least one ACE (Merrick, Ford, Ports, & Guinn, 2018). Ohioans should be aware of the Adverse Childhood Experience 10-Point Questionnaire as a self-help tool through the Ohio Department of Health (ODH).  Anyone who scores four points or more on the questionnaire should have an opportunity for professional help. The ODH has the Adverse Childhood Experience Questionnaire on its website. But it does not engage the public to take the ACE Questionnaire. This is a missed opportunity.  
  • Provide statewide grants to organizations that aggressively encourage all Ohioans to request an ACE Questionnaire for themselves or a friend. Screening should be linked to referrals, counseling, intervention and prevention of gun violence. Screeners could be schools, hospitals, health clinics, foster care agencies, childcare centers, juvenile probation and courts, shelters for children and families as well as faith-based organizations. 
  • Officially classify gun violence as an adverse childhood experience in Ohio and add it to the ACE 10-Point Questionnaire to help reduce gun violence. 
  • Washington State enacted legislation in 2011 (HB1965) aimed at preventing adverse childhood experiences, reducing their prevalence, and mitigating the effects. Ohio should go a step further with legislation to specifically prevent ACE-connected gun violence. 

 

Summary: 

  • Gun violence and mass shootings are major crises facing America.  
  • Every American has a moral responsibility to be our “brother’s and sister’s keeper.” We must recognize red flags, especially as a result of adverse childhood experiences and guns.
  • A national ACE screening program is a first step to recognize red flags that may lead to gun violence. 
  • Let’s start now. We don’t need to wait on the government. You can download a copy of the ACE 10-Point Questionnaire from various websites.  
  • Every parent, guardian or trustee who has legal oversight of children under age 18 has a moral obligation to talk with and monitor them. Youths who score one or more on the ACE Questionnaire should get help so they don’t take childhood trauma into adulthood and struggle with major health and social problems later in life. 
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