Student Safety and Gun Violence in Schools

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In 2011, 5 percent of high school students reported carrying weapons to school and between the 2000-01 and 2010-11 school years 468 deaths occurred at school, during school events or when the victim was traveling to or from school.1

  • Two pieces of federal legislation—the Guns-Free School Zone Act and the Guns-Free Schools Act—prohibit firearms at or around schools. Additionally, individual states may create stricter laws and have discretion over concealed carry permit holders and college and university campuses.2
  • The Guns-Free School Zone Act prohibits unauthorized individuals from knowingly carrying a firearm in a school zone. Specifically, school zone refers to a distance of 1,000 feet from a public, parochial or private school. The law excludes private property, state-licensed individuals, unloaded guns in locked containers in vehicles or firearms used in a school-sponsored program.
  • The Guns-Free Schools Act tries to discourage students from carrying guns to school rather than the general public. In order to receive federal funds for education, this law requires states to expel students who bring firearms to schools for at least one year. Additionally, police must be notified.3 Similar to the Guns-Free School Zone Act, the Guns-Free Schools Act allows guns to be locked inside vehicles or carried by a school-authorized individual for a school program.4

Despite these efforts, a report by the National Center for Education Statistics found that 5 percent of students in grades 9 through 12 carried a weapon to school in 2011. Additionally, 17 percent carried a weapon anywhere.5

  • The percentage of students bringing guns to school varies. In six states—Alabama, Georgia, Maine, Montana, Vermont and Wyoming—more than 8 percent of students brought guns to school, while six states—Illinois, Indiana, Nebraska, Massachusetts, Michigan and Wisconsin—saw less than 4 percent of students bringing guns to school.
  • Similarly, the percentage of youths who carry guns anywhere varies by state. Wyoming at 27.1 percent had the highest percentage of youths carrying guns anywhere, while New Jersey, at 9.6 percent, had the lowest.
  • Although 39.1 percent of all schools undertook serious disciplinary action in the 2009-10 school year, only a small portion was in response to firearm possession. Most of the disciplinary actions—29 percent—involved physical fights, followed by illegal drugs at 20 percent, weapons other than firearms at 13 percent, alcohol at 9 percent and, lastly, firearms or explosive devices at 3 percent. That 3 percent, however, translates into 5,800 instances of firearm possession or use by a student. 
  • Males are more likely to carry weapons, both on school property and in general. Twenty-six percent of boys carried a weapon anywhere and 8 percent brought a weapon to school, whereas only 7 percent of girls carried a weapon anywhere and only 2 percent brought a weapon to school.
  • Students in rural communities are more likely to carry weapons both in school and in general. 
  • Approximately 5 percent of students in the United States have access to a loaded gun without adult permission. Percentages increase by grade level: 8 percent of 12th graders and 4 percent of 9th graders have access to a loaded gun without adult permission.

Weapons in schools are responsible for the deaths of students, staff and nonstudent individuals, including homicides and suicides.6

  • Between 1 and 2 percent of all youth homicides occur at school, and this percentage has been stable during the past decade.7
  • Most attacks occur during transition times, such as lunch or the beginning and end of the school day.8
  • In 2011, 5.9 percent of students stayed home from school at least one day because they did not feel safe either at school or traveling to and from school.9
  • In the 2010-11 school year, there were 31 school-associated violent deaths.
  • Of these 31 deaths, 17 were staff and nonstudents such as parents; 14 incidents—11 homicides and three suicides—involved students between the ages of 5 and 18.
  • These numbers fluctuate over time. For instance, in the 2006-07 school year there were 63 total deaths, with 32 student homicides and nine student suicides.
  • In total, there were 468 school-associated violent deaths between the 2000-01 and 2010-11 school years.10

Schools use many methods to protect students, staff and visitors.11

  • More than 90 percent of all schools control access to the school building, limit social networking from school computers, ban cell phone use and text messaging, require visitors to sign in and check out, and have a code of student conduct.
  • Between 50 and 89 percent of all schools require faculty and staff to wear ID badges, have telephones in most classrooms, use an electronic notification system in emergencies, enforce a dress code, use security cameras, conduct locker checks and monitor the halls.
  • Less than 20 percent of all schools require students to carry ID or wear uniforms, perform drug tests on athletes or students in extracurricular activities, conduct random or daily metal detector checks or sweeps for contraband, require clear backpacks or ban backpacks.
  • In 2009, 43 percent of schools had one or more security guards, school resource officers or sworn law enforcement officers present, and 28 percent of schools had armed personnel.
  • In general, larger schools and high schools made more security efforts; middle schools undertook more measures than primary schools. Since the December 2012 shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Conn., several states have enacted legislation to formally regulate firearms in schools.12
  • Two state laws—Kansas House Bill 2052 and Georgia House Bill 60—allow individuals with concealed carry licenses to bring firearms onto school property or within school safety zones with permission from the school. Oklahoma House Bill 1622 allows concealed carry, with approval by a governing board or official, in private schools and private school buses, while Arkansas Senate Bill 896 allows concealed carry in schools operated by a church, again with specified approval. Tennessee  House Bill 6 also requires school employees to complete a school police training course to carry firearms on school property. North Carolina House Bill 937 limits firearms to locked vehicles. 
  • Two state laws—Indiana Senate Bill 1 and Texas House Bill 1009—create school resource officers or marshals. Texas school marshals must undergo training, are not allowed to carry firearms when in direct contact with students and are limited to one marshal per 400 students.
  • South Dakota House Bill 1087 was the first law to explicitly allow school employees to carry firearms. Schools may hire armed security officers, allow armed volunteers as sentinels or allow teachers to carry firearms. The local law enforcement agency must grant approval and the sentinels must receive training.

References:

1 Robers, Simone, Jana Kemp, Jennifer Truman, Thomas D. Snyder. “Indicators of School Crime and Safety: 2012.” National Center for Education Statistics, U.S. Department of Education, and the Bureau of Justice Statistics. June 2013. 
2 Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence. “Guns in schools policy summary.” Nov. 1, 2013. 
3 Dunn, Martin J. “Security solutions: Knowing legislation: Learning about the Gun-Free Schools Act of 1994.” American School & University. June 1, 2002. 
4 Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence.
5 Robers et al. 2013. In the survey, students reported carrying a gun to school at least once during the previous 30 days and to carrying a weapon anywhere at least once during the previous 30 days.
6 Robers et al. 2013.
7 “Understanding School Violence, Fact Sheet.”
8 National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, Division of Violence Prevention. “School-Associated Violent Death Study."
9 National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, Division of Violence Prevention. “Youth Violence, Facts at a Glance.” 2012. 
10 Robers et al. 2013.
11 Robers et al. 2013.
12 Unless noted otherwise, state laws were retrieved from openstates.org, smartgunlaws.org or Council of State Governments Justice Center, “Arming Teachers and K-12 School Staff” (New York: Council of State Governments Justice Center, January 2014).