Association for Behavior Analysis International

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Reiminaging Solutions to the Persistence of Gun Violence in K-12 Schools

Sonali Rajan (Columbia University)

B. F. Skinner Lecture Series Paper




Dr. Sonali Rajan is an Associate Professor of Health Education in the Department of Health and Behavior Studies at Teachers College, Columbia University. She also holds a secondary faculty appointment in the Department of Epidemiology at the Mailman School of Public Health. Dr. Rajan is a school violence prevention researcher, studying gun violence, school safety, and adverse childhood experiences. She holds faculty affiliations with the CDC-funded Columbia Center for Injury Science and Prevention, the Columbia Scientific Union for the Reduction of Gun Violence, and the Institute for Urban and Minority Education. She also co-produces Re(Search) for Solutions, a podcast hosted by the Media and Social Change Lab at Teachers College devoted to amplifying creative and evidence-based solutions to the persistence of gun violence. For over a decade, Dr. Rajan has conducted research in K-12 public schools across the U.S.  And for nearly 15 years, Dr. Rajan has collaborated closely with the non-profit organization Girls on the Run; she currently serves on their National Board of Directors. Dr. Rajan has published over 50 peer-reviewed journal articles in additional to multiple talks, book chapters, and other written pieces. Her work has also been featured in multiple national media outlets (including National Public Radio, the Hechinger Report, and CSPAN).




Gun violence in the United States (U.S.) persists as a public health crisis. Over 40,000 individuals die from firearm-related injuries each year and another 60,000 are shot. Of these, nearly 8,000 are children. And gun violence specifically within K-12 schools continues. Indeed, recent data have underscored that over 250,000 children in the U.S. have been exposed to gun violence specifically in K-12 schools since the Columbine High School mass shooting tragedy in 1999, with Black children disproportionately impacted in comparison to their White peers. And rates of gun violence have increased precipitously since the onset of the Covid19 pandemic.

The impact of gun violence on children is particularly concerning as exposure to gun violence is considered an adverse childhood experience (ACE). ACEs are potentially traumatic events that occur during childhood. An extensive body of research on exposure to ACEs has been linked to dozens of negative outcomes over the life course (poor mental health, increased risk for chronic disease, asthma, poor oral health, cancer, injury, suicide, premature mortality, and even decreased school success). They’re also highly prevalent: an estimated 30% of children report experiencing at least one ACE. Thus, preventing this kind of violence is of utmost importance. Despite this urgency, meaningful responses to the prevention of gun violence in K-12 schools over the past decade have been lacking and largely not informed by evidence.

In this presentation, I draw on existing research, novel data, and a child-centric framework to present a new model that reimagines what solutions to the persistence of gun violence in K-12 schools looks like. In pursuing this work, I seek to answer the following question: what if our collective response to school gun violence did not prepare our schools for the inevitability of the next school shooting, rather treated the eradication of gun violence in schools as a genuine possibility? Knowledge, support, prevention, policy, engagement, commitment, leadership, and consistency are guiding principles we can use to reimagine how our schools can be kept safe, while ensuring that our children thrive.


Modifed by Eddie Soh