Shots fired in US schools spiked dramatically last year, gun violence report finds

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No school year in the U.S. in nearly a decade saw as much gunfire as the 2021-2022 academic calendar, a report released Friday shows.

The report was published by Everytown For Gun Safety, a nonpartisan group advocating against gun violence. It shows the last school year, between Aug. 1 and May 31, saw 193 incidents of gunfire, more than doubling the total of the previous year.

For the report, Everytown tracked data going back to the 2013-2014 school year. No other school year had more than 75 incidents of gunfire. The 2021-2022 incidents led to 59 deaths and 138 injuries, Everytown reported.

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“We don’t have to live this way, our children and educators sure as hell shouldn’t die this way," said Shannon Watts, the founder of Moms Demand Action, which is part of Everytown For Gun Safety.

The authors of the report found most shootings are perpetrated by a student or former student at a school. Because of this, most shootings can be prevented just by keeping guns out of the hands of students, the authors said.

"The hopeful news is that, much of this gunfire, it is actually preventable," said Sarah Burd-Sharps, senior director of research at Everytown.

School gun violence happens with 'distressing frequency'

The report says homicides, assaults, suicides and suicide attempts make up nearly 60% of all gun violence at schools.

Mass shootings, which Everytown defines as four or more people being by a shooter, make up less than 1% of all incidents, but they account for a disproportionate number of deaths and injuries.

All students involved in mass shootings and self-harm incidents in schools were current or former students, according to the report.

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Taking care of students who are in distress and keeping guns locked up are the best ways to prevent shootings and save lives, the report says.

"Everyone" who interacts with students needs better resources to intervene and connect students experiencing a crisis with help, the report recommends. The recently passed Bipartisan Safer Communities Act, which President Joe Biden signed in June, includes funding for mental health services for families and schools.

Guns usually come from home

The report lays out how easy access to guns at home is one of the biggest factors leading to shootings, and how securely storing guns at home is one of the simplest ways to prevent students from bringing them to school.

At least 5.4 million children lived in a home with at least one unlocked and loaded firearm in 2021, the group's data shows.

Over the past two years, Moms Demand Action has focused on getting local school boards to enact policies requiring students to be sent home with instructions about how to safely secure firearms.

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In December 2021, the group's efforts led to school boards in Arizona, California, Colorado, Oregon, Texas and Vermont passing secure firearms awareness policies impacting more than two million students.

“It comes down to keeping guns out of schools in the first place," Watts said. "So it’s not a reactive measure, like a drill, is a proactive measure to keep guns out of the hands of students and out of schools.”

This month, California's legislature passed the first law of its kind requiring schools to inform families of the state's firearm storage laws.

Shooters 'nearly always exhibit advanced warning signs'

Many school shootings, including suicides, are preventable because students who bring guns to school intending to harm themselves or others almost always show warning signs, Burd-Sharps said.

Often, when a student shows worrisome signs, like saying they want to hurt someone, for example, other kids "say nothing because they're concerned that the repercussions for that child are going be drastic and immediate and not supportive and nurturing, but immediately disciplinary," Burds-Sharps said.

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Adults in schools also need to connect the dots between how a student is acting in the classroom and whether they have access to guns at home, Watts said.

She said parents of students "who are in crisis" need to be directly asked questions like, "Your child is struggling and displaying concerning behavior – do they have easy access to guns in the home?"

A student helps block the classroom door with furniture during a mock lockdown drill at Moody High School in Corpus Christi, Texas, on Jan. 22, 2013.
A student helps block the classroom door with furniture during a mock lockdown drill at Moody High School in Corpus Christi, Texas, on Jan. 22, 2013.

Drills don't help students

Secure gun storage, talking about warning signs and simply ensuring school doors and gates are locked are evidence-based steps to keep guns and shooters out of school, the report says.

School shooting drills, especially those that replicate what it would feel like if there was a real active shooter or intruder, are "exactly the opposite" of what schools should be doing to prevent tragic events.

A study from Everytown and the Georgia Institute of Technology found drills, which can include fake gunfire and masked actors, caused "alarming and sustained" increases in "depression, stress, anxiety, and fear of death" among students, parents, and teachers.

“I am scared for them every single day, and let’s be clear, it’s not just gun violence, it’s also the active shooter drill that simulate gun violence," Watts said.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: School shootings: Gun violence incidents hit record high, report finds