The U.S School Shooting Statistics Everyone Should Know
Are you aware of these important U.S. school shooting statistics?
Although some experts have argued there’s been too much focus on school shootings compared to other campus emergencies, that focus has resulted in a mass collection and analysis of school shooting statistics that provides valuable insights about the nature of the school shooting threat.
These efforts, taken by multiple organizations, have resulted in several valuable reports that provide a comprehensive— if somewhat overwhelming— look at school shooting data of the past. School officials and first responders should familiarize themselves with these statistics even as they maintain an all-hazards approach to emergency planning.
By now nearly all schools have planned their response to school shootings: In 2016, the CDC found nearly 90 percent of public schools had a written plan for responding to school shootings, and 70 percent of those schools had drilled students on the plan.
This is for good reason: Shootings are among the most deadly types of emergencies a school may face, and one recent study even found that school shootings are increasing on college campuses.
Our goal by providing this in-depth look at school shooting statistics is for readers to understand this threat more completely so they can take a data-driven approach to emergency planning.
Putting School Shootings Into Context
First lets compare the prevalence of school shootings to school violence overall. Fortunately, the National Center for Juvenile Justice (or NCJJ) found the rate of violent crime in schools dropped significantly over a recent 18 year stretch ending in 2010:
Still, school violence remains a real problem: More than 750,000 incidents of violent crime took place in U.S. schools during the 2013-2014 school year, according to the government-sponsored report Indicators of School Crime and Safety: 2015.
Fortunately, the chances a student will be killed at school are far lower than the chances they’ll experience school violence.
A 2004 Secret Service report dubbed the Safe Schools Initiative put the odds of a high school student getting into a fight at school at 1 in 7.
Meanwhile, the aforementioned 2015 report counted just 31 homicides of students aged 5-18 that occurred at school or while traveling to or from school between July of 2012 and June of 2013. That puts the likelihood a student will be killed at school at less than one in a million!
U.S. School Shooting Statistics
Focusing on gun-related school death statistics is necessary to zero in on school shootings. The CDC counted 123 instances of students using guns in school-related homicides or suicides between July of 1992 and June of 1999.
Of these 123 school shootings, here’s some statistics on the attackers:
- 93.5 percent of the shooters were male
- Five students used two firearms each
- 26.8 percent of the shooters committed suicide
- 69.1 percent of the shooters perpetrated a homicide
- Of those homicides, 15.6 percent of shooters killed multiple people
Including non-fatal school shootings makes things look more worrisome. Everytown for Gun Safety, a nonprofit organization that advocates for gun control, has tracked 254 school shootings in America since 2013, defining school shootings as public reports that a gun was fired inside a school building or on school grounds.
Of the first 160 incidents (tracked through 2015), the group’s analysis gives us the following statistics:
- 84 incidents occurred at K-12 schools (or 53 percent of the total)
- 76 incidents occurred at colleges or universities
- In more than half of the incidents, the shooters intentionally injured or killed at least one other person with a gun (an act other groups defined as targeted violence)
- Nearly one in six shootings occurred after a confrontation or verbal argument
- 12 shootings were unintentional
- No one was injured in 33 of the shootings on school grounds
Statistics on U.S. School Shooters
The Safe Schools Initiative report focused on behaviors of school shooters leading up to their attack.
For the report, researchers from the Department of Education and the Secret Service studied 37 incidents of “targeted school-based violence” between 1974 an 2000. The researchers defined targeted school-based violence as “(i) a current or recent former student who attacked someone at his or her school with lethal means (e.g. a gun or knife); and, (ii) where the student attacker purposefully chose his or her school as the location of the attack.”
The Secret Service could produce no useful “profile” of a school shooter, finding that attackers “varied considerably in demographic, background, and other characteristics.” Still, they offered several notable insights.
Below are some of the report’s statistics, which incorporate school shootings:
- All of the attacks were committed by males
- 98 percent of the attackers experienced or perceived a major loss prior to the attack
- 78 percent of attackers had a history of suicide attempts or suicidal thoughts prior to their attack
- 71 percent of attackers felt persecuted, bullied, threatened, attacked, or injured by others prior to the incident (in several cases that harassment was described as “long-standing and severe”)
- Almost all of the attackers (95 percent) were current students at the school
- More than half (59 percent) of the attacks occurred during the school day
- In 73 percent of the incidents, the attackers had a grievance against at least one of their targets
- Most attackers used a gun as their primary weapon, with 61 percent using handguns and 49 percent using rifles or shotguns
- Three quarters of attackers used only one weapon, although nearly half of them carried multiple weapons during the attack
- In the majority of incidents (81 percent) the attacker carried out the incident on his own
Many of these statistics describe the perpetrator in the shooting at Seattle Pacific University in 2014. That attack was carried out during the day with one shotgun by a male with a history of suicide attempts and thoughts. The attacker had even been hospitalized after reporting to hear one of the Columbine High School shooters in his head “telling him to hurt people.”
Fortunately, a courageous student stopped the shooting using pepper spray, a reminder that regardless of your plans, heroic actions taken by people in the immediate vicinity of the shooting can be the best way to mitigate an attack.
Statistics on “Red Flag” Behavior
Just focusing on school shootings that were actually carried out may miss the full picture. Analyzing data on behaviors that could plausibly lead to school shootings can also give us an idea of the nature of the threat.
One such behavior is bringing a weapon onto school property. Fortunately, the data here is encouraging: A 2016 report by the National Center for Education Statistics found that between 1993 and 2015, the percentage of high school students who reported carrying a weapon onto school grounds in the last 30 days decreased from 12 percent to four percent.
Below is a breakdown of students who reported bringing a weapon to school (described in the survey as a “weapon such as a gun, knife, or club”) by location and sex.
Here are the results of the same weapon survey broken down by race and ethnicity.
Another red flag is students who report having access to loaded guns without adult permission. Again the National Center for Education Statistics offers insights. The data shows minimal variation when broken down by recent school years.
Putting These Statistics to Use
It’s our hope that these reports and the school shooting statistics within them are used by officials to make more informed decisions when crafting emergency plans.
But school officials aren’t the only ones who can use these statistics to help prevent shootings. A look at where attackers got their weapons reveals the role gun safety plays in the equation.
The CDC report analyzed where shooters got the 128 weapons used to carry out the 123 attacks it tracked, finding that 37.5 percent came from the shooter’s home and 23.4 percent came from a friend or relative of the shooter. Multiple victim events were more likely to be carried out with guns from the home compared to single victim events.
We’ve published articles by experts on spotting concealed weapons and active shooter prevention strategies, all with the belief that a smarter society is a safer society. Staying informed about school shooting statistics is the first step toward preventing these horrible attacks.
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