K-12 School Shooting Statistics: 52 Years of Data
Since 1970, there have been 2,057 incidents involving the discharge of a firearm on school property and 680 people have died.
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This article, originally published in 2018, was last updated on Oct. 5, 2023, to reflect current statistics.
While this data is important and may be intimidating, we want to emphasize that active shooter events in schools are still extremely rare. There are many layers to keeping schools secure and students and staff safe. Active shooter response should only be part of your campus safety plan — not all of it.
Additionally, this data includes all incidents where a firearm was discharged — not just mass shootings.
The Naval Postgraduate School‘s Center for Homeland Defense and Security (CHDS), in conjunction with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), maintains a K-12 school shooting database project as part of their Advanced Thinking in Homeland Security program. They found the need for accurate, detailed information on this subject was paramount to campus safety.
The database documents every instance a gun is brandished, fired, or a bullet hits school property for any reason, regardless of the number of victims, time, day of the week, or reason.
As we continue to recover from the pandemic, mental health concerns among young people continue to skyrocket and many weapons have been confiscated from schools. Some districts have even taken or considered taking significant measures to prevent weapons from getting inside, including banning backpacks and installing metal detectors in middle schools. Once unfathomable situations, like a six-year-old taking a gun to school and shooting his teacher, are becoming reality.
While the incident in Newport News is hardly normative, it does make most pause and wonder what it is that’s causing this increase in concerning behaviors. No matter one’s beliefs on what might solve the youth mental health and gun violence epidemics, looking at the raw data and understanding the various factors that may have caused or led up to an incident will offer insight into ways to prevent and mitigate.
You can find the entire database here but we will highlight some of the important findings below.
K-12 School Shooting Statistics
The school shooting data below includes stats from 1970 to June 2022. Partial 2023 data can be found on the CHDS website.
- There have been 2,057 shooting incidents since 1970.
- There have been 680 fatalities and 1,926 injuries.
- 2021 had the greatest number of incidents with 249. The next highest year was 2022 with 153 (note this only includes through June).
- Since 1970, there have been 573 fatalities and 1,623 injuries.
- 2022 was the deadliest year with 50 victims killed — 21 of whom died in the Robb Elementary School shooting.
- California, Texas, and Florida are the states with the most incidents.
- The most common location for a school shooting is in a parking lot (22.6%), followed by inside a classroom (9.8%).
- Most school shootings occurred during morning classes (18.1%), followed by during afternoon classes (10.3%) and sporting events (10.1%).
- The most common situation was an escalated dispute (37%).
- The most common time of year for a school shooting is in the fall (40%).
The CHDS has compiled all of their K-12 school shooting statistics in graphs, tables, and charts.
We put together a slideshow of these graphs for you to view here. Each slide has a link to an interactive map with more detailed information.
K-12 School Shooter Statistics
Here are some statistics specific to the shooters:
- In 934 incidents (43.1%), the shooter was a current student at the school.
- 442 shooters (20.4%) had no school affiliation.
- In 1,043 incidents, the shooter targeted specific victims. In 296 incidents, the victims were random. In 219 incidents, the victims were both targeted and random.
- The average age of the shooters is 20.
- The most common age of a shooter is 17, followed by 16, 18, and 15.
- The shooter was male in 1,838 incidents and female in 87.
- The most commonly used weapon was a handgun or multiple handguns, which were used in 1,445 incidents. A rifle or multiple rifles were used in 114 incidents.
- In 220 incidents, the shooter died, largely from suicide (86%).
What Defines a School Shooting?
To gather detailed and accurate data, the CHDS had to come up with a definition of a school shooting to decide which incidents made it into the database. Their definition is any time “a gun is brandished, is fired, or a bullet hits school property for any reason, regardless of the number of victims (including zero), time, day of the week, or reason.”
Some criteria questions to consider when determining if an incident is actually a school shooting are:
- Did the shooting occur at a location defined as an educational institute for children?
- Does it need to be inside a school building on school property?
- Are shootings that occur on school buses considered a school shooting?
- Is a student committing suicide with a firearm inside the school considered a school shooting?
- Do there need to be victims in order for it to be classified as a school shooting?
- What if non-students shoot at other non-students and the bullet hits a student bystander?
The CHDS says choosing to include or exclude factors like these can directly affect the statistical narrative on school shootings. Through exclusion, fewer incidents will be reported. Partial or incomplete inclusion will increase the number of reported incidents.
Research & Methodology
After defining what a school shooting was, the CHDS followed a four-step process to populate the school shooting database.
1. Database Compilation and Preliminary Research
An open-source analysis was conducted to determine all of the available data on school shootings. After reviewing the existing data, the information from each of the different databases was compiled into a single spreadsheet.
2. Detailed Research
Newspaper archives were frequently used to find accurate information on school shootings, although some would only give the school name, shooter’s name, or victim’s name. Cross-referencing the information from multiple newspaper articles provided the most open-source information and best corroboration reasonably available.
To assist in identifying data and sorting information, a set of categories were established to provide context for the cause of the shooting. The top categories can be found in the chart below. The full interactive chart can be found here.
3. Reliability Score and Validation of Research with Official Documents
The information in the database is open-source from online and print news. The validity of the information about each incident was quantified with a reliability score of one to five (five being the most reliable).
- Single newspaper article or online news report
- Multiple news sources
- Hundreds of news sources or statements/interviews from law enforcement officials
- Court records or police report
4. Validation with Official Sources
The goal is to have every incident in the database have a reliability score of five. Each of the school shootings in the database includes a date, school name, city, and state.
Beginning the process of addressing the potential threat of a shooter at your school can be overwhelming. Here are some resources to help.
Disclaimer from CHDS website: This is an official Department of the Navy (DON) Website (Government Information Locator Service Number: DOD-TBD-001923). This information service is provided by the Naval Postgraduate School (NPS) for the public viewing and retrieving of information. Unless otherwise indicated, information on this service represents official, unclassified NPS, DON, or Department of Defense (DOD) policies or positions.
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