Crosses with the names of Tuesday's shooting victims are placed outside Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, Thursday, May 26, 2022. The 18-year-old man who slaughtered 19 children and two teachers in Texas left a digital trail that hinted at what was to come. Credit: Jae C. Hong / AP

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Lisa Savage of Solon is a retired educator who ran for U.S. Senate as a Green Independent in 2020. Currently she hosts the Pathways to Progress TV talk show with city councilors in Portland.

Another mass murder of school children, another wave of hand-wringing and ineffective thoughts and prayers. The latest school shooting doesn’t appear to be a hate crime like the one in Buffalo a few weeks ago that deliberately targeted Black grocery shoppers. The now-deceased shooter in Texas and the majority of his victims were from the same ethnic group.

Many have noted that the vast majority of mass shooters are men, around 98 percent. Men and boys have no more access to guns and ammunition than women and girls do, so what’s the explanation?

It could be something most analysts overlook: adverse childhood experiences, or ACEs.

Back in 2019, researchers studied every mass school shooting from 1966-2018. “The vast majority of mass shooters in our study experienced early childhood trauma and exposure to violence at a young age. The nature of their exposure included parental suicide, physical or sexual abuse, neglect, domestic violence, and/or severe bullying,” wrote criminal justice professors Jillian Peterson and James Densley in the Los Angeles Times in 2019.

The ACEs questionnaire and scale were developed to quantify and name the cause that creates such devastating effects: high levels of stress are toxic for our nervous system as humans. If experienced in childhood, they can lead to actual changes in the structure and function of the brain. And researchers say the effect on male brains may be different. Additionally, if high levels of stress lead to acting out behavior, this can often trigger additional stress as authority figures respond to the behavior. Ask any teacher if they’ve seen this in their school.

Forensic ACEs reveal that the vast majority of violent criminals have a high ACEs score. Poverty contributes to ACEs e.g. children experiencing eviction, hunger or lack of medical care for themselves and their caregivers. Being targeted for one’s race or ethnic identity also raises the ACEs score. Nearly 1 in 6 people in the U.S. reported four or more ACEs as adults in a study by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention with Kaiser Permanente that found, “ACEs can have lasting, negative effects on health, well-being, as well as life opportunities such as education and job potential. These experiences can increase the risks of injury, sexually transmitted infections, maternal and child health problems (including teen pregnancy, pregnancy complications, and fetal death), involvement in sex trafficking, and a wide range of chronic diseases and leading causes of death such as cancer, diabetes, heart disease, and suicide.”

As we’ve seen, some disaffected boys and men may gravitate toward hate ideologies like white supremacy. As their parents ignore their online activity but allow them to stockpile weapons, the threat grows. Some parents of mass shooters have actually helped their sons obtain weapons. Others are simply working long hours and substituting material possessions for time with a caring adult. Those who study substance use disorder have found that alienation and disconnection feed the problem, while connecting to solid relationships supports recovery. Could the same be true for potential mass murderers who receive real help before they become enamored of the glamour and power of celebrity through violence?

More funding to assess ACEs, reduce poverty, support parents and other caregivers by meeting health care and other needs, and address mental health will do far more than ramping up police budgets. Police budgets are climbing and so are mass shootings. The school in Texas where 19 children and two teachers were killed and many more injured on May 24 had a security team including armed police officers. Applying more force and more weapons will not address the root of the problem.

It’s time to save our children and, in the process, save ourselves.