Gunfire at schools just set a record. How can leaders keep kids safe?

'It’s been a devastating first half of a school year,' one advocate says after 136 instances of gunfire are reported
By: | February 11, 2022
First responders carry a student in a training exercise. (AdobeStock)First responders carry a student in a training exercise. (AdobeStock)

A dangerous record has been broken as the beginning of 2021-22 saw the highest-ever level of gun violence at schools.

In at least 136 instances of gunfire this past fall, some 26 people were killed and 96 wounded. That’s the highest number in a five-month period since 2013, the year that Everytown for Gun Safety, a nonprofit committing to ending school violence, began tracking such incidents.

“It’s been a devastating first half of a school year, and without meaningful action from every level of government, more students and teachers will be shot, more communities will be traumatized, and more kids will spend their days worrying about gun violence instead of classes,” said Shannon Watts, founder of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, another school safety organization.

Nearly four years to the day since 17 students and staff were killed in a mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, new research from Everytown for Gun Safety paints a bleak picture of the lack of progress made in reducing the violence.

In all of 2021, there were at least 202 incidents of gunfire on school grounds, killing 49 and wounding 126, according to Everytown’s database.

That’s more than double the 96 reports of gunfire the organization recorded in 2020 when many schools were closed for remote instruction. But last year’s violence also far surpassed the numbers for:

  • 2019: 130 (33 deaths, 78 injuries)
  • 2018: 105 (61 deaths, 91 injuries)
  • 2017: 70 (20 deaths, 47 injuries)

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Everytown has also examined where school shooters obtain their guns, finding 3 out of 4 acquire the firearm from home. In 2021, at least 5.4 million children lived in a home with at least one unlocked and loaded firearm, up from 4.6 million in 2015, the organization also reported.

Do active-shooter drills work?

Not very well, say the safety organizations. Active-shooter drills cause significant and lasting increases in depression, stress and anxiety, and fear of death among students, parents and teachers, an Everytown for Gun Safety study found.

Researchers used machine-learning technology to analyze nearly 28 million Twitter and Reddit posts in the 90 days before and after active shooter drills, and found a significant increase in posts with words such as therapy, cope, irritability, suicidal, and more.

The organizations have pressed the Biden Administration to:

  1. Promote secure firearms storage and set guidelines for schools that hold active-shooter drills.
  2. Assist schools in educating parents about securing guns at home, including providing information on the most secure storage devices.
  3. Strengthen enforcement of laws barring underage students from buying guns and comprehensive background checks on firearms purchases.
  4. Direct the Consumer Product Safety Commission to more rigorously review the effectiveness of gun locks and gun safes.