Analysis: Student firearm carrying in schools is on the rise
STUDENTS CARRYING FIREARMS IN SCHOOL HAS INCREASED 150.7% SINCE 2020
57% of students fear a school shooting
Schools should be a place where students can learn in a safe and supportive environment. Yet, as of August 2023, more than 356,000 students have experienced gun violence at school since the 1999 Columbine shooting and the majority of students – 57% – live in fear that their school will be the location of the next school shooting.
Today, school security is nearly a $3 billion industry. From classroom shields, to metal detectors, to bulletproof backpacks, this is an unfortunate reality for American children.
Over the past six school years, 2,442 firearms have been brought to K-12 schools by children. During the same time period, children facilitated 175 school shootings, which killed 66 people and injured 180 others.
STUDENTS BRINGING GUNS TO SCHOOL IS FAR TOO COMMON
Recent polling found that approximately 3% of high school students (grades 9-12) – including 4% of male students and 2% of female students – reportedly carried a firearm on school property at least one time within the last 30 days. While not every firearm results in a school shooting, the potential for deadly consequences and severe emotional distress remains present whenever a firearm is in a place of learning.
In this analysis, we examine incidents in which a student under the age of 18 carried a gun onto school property. Using data from the Gun Violence Archive, we look at the age of the students in possession of firearms and where the shootings took place. In doing so, we found how often firearms are present in places of learning and that states with weaker gun laws have more incidents than states with stronger gun laws.
From Fall 2017- Spring 2023, there were 2,442 firearms brought to school by minors.
Student firearm carrying in schools increased 104.6% since before COVID-19 lockdowns (2019-2020 vs. 2021-2022.)
During the 2019-2020 and 2020-2021 school years, there was a lull in the number of firearms brought to school due to school closures caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. As schools reopened, the number of children bringing firearms to school increased. During the 2022-2023 academic year alone, there were 718 firearms discovered in students’ possession on school grounds.
Over six school years, from Fall 2017 - Spring 2023, there were 275 guns brought to school by students under the age of 11. The majority of these incidents happened during the past two school years (2021-2022 and 2022-2023), which may indicate access to firearms among young people is increasing.
During this same period of time, there were 2,191 guns brought to school by students ages 12-17. Similar to younger students, older students brought more firearms to school in the past two academic years compared to previous years.
States with weaker gun laws are at greater risk of school shootings.
82% of students who bring guns to school live in states without safe storage laws.
Florida, Texas, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia have the highest number of incidents involving a student in possession of a gun on school property. Each of these states do not have a safe storage law, which would require gun owners to lock their firearms in a locking mechanism and store their firearms unloaded.
While students may bring firearms to school for a variety of reasons, we know that adolescents who have experienced violence and those who believe their community is unsafe are more likely to carry a firearm to school. We must invest in under-resourced communities to improve public safety.
Large-scale school shootings like at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, TX, and Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, FL, are heavily covered by traditional media, however, school shootings are not limited to mass shooting events. Most school shootings occur on school property and kill or injure one or two people or no one at all.
In this analysis, we examined the incidents in which a student under the age of 18 gained access to a firearm and opened fire on school property. Using the Gun Violence Archive, we looked at the number of people injured or killed in these tragedies, the intent behind the shooting, the age of the shooter, and where the shooting took place. In doing so, we hope to understand what the most common type of gun violence is that occurs in schools and if weaker gun laws facilitate students’ access to firearms to allow such shootings.
On January 6, 2023, a six-year-old boy in Newport News, Va., gained access to his mother’s gun and brought it to Richneck Elementary School where he shot his teacher, Abby Zwerner. After being shot, Zwerner rushed her students out of the classroom to safety before being taken to the hospital.
On August 29, 2022, a 12-year-old boy unintentionally shot his 13-year-old classmate at Madison Park Academy in Oakland, Calif..
On November 30, 2021, a 15-year-old boy opened fire at Oxford High School in Michigan. During the shooting, four of his classmates were killed and seven others were injured. It was later discovered that the gunman’s parents purchased the firearm he used in the shooting for him – giving him unsupervised access to a deadly weapon.
Over six school years from 2017-2023, children facilitated 175 school shootings, which killed 66 people and injured 180 others.
The majority of these shootings occurred in the two years following the COVID-19 pandemic as schools began to open back up to in-person learning. Similarly, the year with the fewest school shootings facilitated by students happened during the height of school closures during the 2020-2021 school year.
The number of school shooting incidents perpetrated by children increased 250% since before COVID-19 lockdowns (2019-2020 vs. 2021-2022).
Notably, over this six academic year period, the number of school shootings perpetrated by minors increased by 31%. However, the intent behind these school shootings vary greatly between age groups.
The vast majority of school shootings perpetrated by minors are carried out by children between the ages of 12-17. Children under the age of 11 only carry out 6% of school shootings perpetrated by minors.
Most young children do not intend to shoot the gun they gained access to. Instead, 10 out of the 11 school shootings perpetrated by these young kids were unintentional. Conversely, only 16% of school shootings perpetrated by older children are unintentional.
Older children are more likely to carry a firearm outside the home than younger children, which increases the likelihood of engaging in violence and data shows that these older students are also more likely to engage in intentional gun violence compared to younger students.
Over the analysis period, only 9 students under the age of 18 carried out a mass shooting – all of whom were over the age of 12.
77% of school shootings perpetrated by children occurred in states without safe storage laws.
The states with the most school shootings were Texas, Georgia, and North Carolina —three states with weak gun laws and no safe storage requirements. Comparatively, states with strong gun laws like Hawaii, Connecticut, and Rhode Island have not had a single school shooting perpetrated by a child over this time period.
Students who are exposed to gun violence in school face lower academic achievement and are more likely to develop mental health conditions.
Research shows that students exposed to gun violence in school are more likely to be absent from school, repeat a grade in the following two years, and have lower test scores. Furthermore, students exposed to gun violence are less likely to graduate high school, attend college or graduate school, and have a high earning job.
Similarly, students exposed to gun violence are more likely to be on antidepressants, have substance abuse issues, and develop anxiety disorders.
IMPORTANCE OF SAFE STORAGE
Seventy-six percent of school shootings are facilitated by kids having access to unsecured and unsupervised guns at home. Yet, 4.6 million children in the U.S. still live in homes with unlocked and loaded firearms.
Storing firearms securely is vitally important to ending students’ engagement with gun violence in schools. Children cannot legally purchase a firearm, but when guns are left unsecure in the home, children can easily access these deadly weapons.
To improve rates of safe storage, there must be an overhaul of public opinion to what we know to be true: Guns do not make us safer. Brady has been doing this work through End Family Fire and ASK (Asking Saves Lives).
End Family Fire is a movement to promote responsible gun ownership. In partnership with the AdCouncil, its mission is to encourage safe gun storage in the home. By securing firearms, rates of unintentional shootings,suicide, and firearm misuse can be greatly decreased – both in the home and in our schools.
ASK is an easy way to help keep our kids safe. Parents and guardians ask all sorts of questions before allowing their child to visit another home; they ask about pets, allergies, internet access, and supervision. As a part of our End Family Fire program, ASK encourages parents and guardians to add one more question to this conversation: “Is there an unlocked gun where my child plays?”
Schools should be a place of safety and learning.
We must do more to keep our children safe. Through safe storage, ASKing about guns in the home, and stronger gun laws, we will let our kids just be kids, focused on learning, not surviving.