Victim blaming and a misguided focus on mental illness by President Trump will not lead to genuine reform, nor genuine healing in the aftermath of another school shooting, Northwestern University experts say.

The University has several experts available to speak about the Parkland, Fla., shooting that left 17 dead.

“President Trump's response to the tragic mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida provides a window onto his continuing struggles to carry out the dignified aspects of his office and the political challenges that he faces due to his very narrow base of support,” said Alvin B. Tillery, Jr., an associate professor of political science. “President Trump's decision to take to Twitter to chide the residents of Parkland for not raising alarms about Mr. Cruz's behavior represents the first time in the new media age when an American president has essentially blamed the victims for their fates. This is a miscommunication of historic proportions, and it was magnified by the fact that he failed to mention guns and provided no meaningful call to action in his public remarks on the shooting.

“It is also clear that President Trump and Republican leaders in Congress, like Paul Ryan, see themselves as constrained by their base voters' unwillingness to accept any new restrictions on gun sales. In this environment, it is very unlikely that genuine reform measures will be entertained prior to the 2018 midterm elections.”

Tillery is the director of the Center for the Study of Diversity and Democracy and an associate professor of political science. His research and teaching interests are in the fields of American politics and political theory. His research in American politics focuses on American political development, racial and ethnic politics and media and politics. He can be reached at (mobile) 574-514-5758or [email protected].

“Mass murderers, spree killers and serial killers are a product of both nurture and nature,” said Lori Post, a professor of emergency medicine and medical social sciences. When the shooter was a junior in high school, both of his adoptive parents died. That is a major life stressor and trigger. At the same time, he was expelled from school for disciplinary problems. That is another trigger.

“Experts in youth violence believe that students who are expelled are high risk, however, expelling them makes them even more high risk. Rather than expelling students and releasing them into communities feeling anger, rejection, and loss of structure and support, communities would benefit from creating alternative high schools otherwise we are throwing gasoline on an already existing fire. Anybody, even non-psychopaths or sociopaths are at risk for cults, gangs, falling in with the wrong crowd after losing so much. When people are socially ostracized, they will find people with open arms. Often these arms are evil.

“But, it is not a mental health issue. It is a personality disorder. [The shooter] is not a mentally ill person. He gave significant forethought to this mass murder. He planned the time of day, he pulled the fire alarm, he shot students as they came out of classrooms. He executed his plan perfectly. Linking this horrendous event to mental illness stigmatizes an already struggling and marginalized population and likely prevents people who need mental health therapies to come forward and to ask for help.”

Post is the director of the Institute for Public Health and Medicine and a professor of emergency medicine and medical social sciences at the Feinberg School of Medicine. Post is a violence prevention expert who has spoken extensively on mass shootings. She can be reached at[email protected].

“Today, teachers and parents across the country are struggling to talk to their students and children about Parkland. Before we jump into these conversations -- and this goes for the aftermath of every mass-shooting and act of terrorism -- we need to take time to check our own emotional responses,” said Danny M. Cohen, a professor of instruction. “Too often, we set our emotions aside, in part because these shootings happen so often. When we allow ourselves to be honest and feel many emotions at once, we're in a better position to model for our children and our students how to respond.

“What are the institutional, cultural, and personal barriers to talking about mass-shootings? Once we identify those barriers, we can start to break them down, one by one. That's how we break taboos.”

Cohen is a professor of instruction at the School of Education and Social Policy. He focuses his teaching and research on appropriate and inappropriate pedagogies for educating about violence. Cohen’s work with Unsilence helps communities and teachers have difficult conversations about mental health, suicide, sexual violence, xenophobia and terrorism. He can be reached at [email protected].

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