In the year since 20 first-graders were shot and killed at Sandy Hook Elementary, another school shooting has taken place in America every two weeks on average.
These events aren’t necessarily the types of tragedies that come to mind when one thinks of “school shootings”—madmen in fatigues roaming school hallways, strapped with automatic-style guns, murdering indiscriminately—nor do they receive the media attention of such mass shootings. But they can be similarly traumatizing for students and staff, and they have led to at least 24 injuries and 17 deaths over the past year, The Daily Beast has found.*
(*We published this article on Thursday, Dec 12. Friday Dec 13 brought reports of yet another school shooting, this one at Arapahoe High School, in Centennial, CO. One student was transported to a hospital with a gunshot wound and listed in serious condition. The shooter is dead of a self-inflicted gunshot wound.)
Using data culled from media reports and collected in part by the gun-control advocacy group Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, we tallied 24 school shootings during 2013—that is, shootings that occurred on school campuses when students were present. Shootings that took place after hours on school grounds were not included.
Our count includes shootings that resulted in no fatalities as well as those where the only victim was the shooter, such as the case of 17-year-old Joseph Poynter, a junior at La Salle High School in Cincinnati, who in April brought a gun from home and “placed it to his right temple and discharged one round into his head” in front of a classroom full of students, according to police reports.
Two thirds of these shootings took place on high school and college campuses. The remainder took place in middle schools or elementary schools, like the one in which Adam Lanza killed 20 students, six adults, and then himself a year ago this week. The shootings occurred in 15 states across the country, with the highest concentration in Florida (five) and Georgia (three).
Corresponding data for previous years doesn’t exist, making it difficult to determine whether the national debate spurred by the Newtown tragedy has led to any real change.
By one count, there has been a decline in students carrying guns on school property. The most recent data from the nation-wide Youth Risk Behavior Survey shows a record-low 5.4 percent of students in grades 9-12 carried a gun on school property, less than half the rate in 1993. Still, according to the most recent Gallup poll, one in three parents of K-12 children say they fear for the physical safety of their kids at school—a sentiment that jumped 33 percent right after the shootings at Sandy Hook and has yet to recede.
On the legislative side, at least 540 separate bills related to school safety and security made their way through the 50 states this year. That’s “certainly an increase” from previous years, “particularly in relation to guns and weapons,” says Lauren Heintz, an analyst at the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL), a group that tracks legislative action.
Of those 540 bills, 106 laws were enacted, putting preventative and planning measures in place including gun-safety classes; security personnel; safety plans and drills; and the commissioning of studies and advisory councils on school safety.
School boards and local governments have also adopted new policies—including hiring uniformed police officers and arming teachers and other school staff—in an effort to ensure student safety. The NRA offered such a plan in response to the Newtown massacre. “The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun,” the gun group’s vice president Wayne LaPierre said as he unveiled their plan to hire armed guards at the nation’s schools.
And in fact, at least 33 states took this approach, introducing 80 bills in 2013 that would arm school teachers or staff. Bills authorizing the carry of guns (with certification and training) passed in eight states: Alabama, Arkansas, Kansas, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Tennessee, and Texas.
Proponents of such measures are bolstered by anecdotes of school shootings like the one at Atlanta Georgia’s Price Middle School in February. A 15-year-old student there shot another boy in the back of the neck and was immediately disarmed and apprehended by an armed resource officer.
Other groups like the National School Safety and Security Services, a school safety consulting firm, warn against arming teachers. There’s a difference between trained law enforcement officers and “having teachers, custodians, cafeteria workers and other non-public safety professionals packing a gun in school with hundreds of children,” President Kenneth S. Trump said in a news release in 2008. The “arm anyone mentality” he says, resurfaces periodically, following instances of school violence.
As for a response on the federal level, Trump says there has been “limited to no action compared to what we saw after Columbine.” Following the 1999 tragedy in Littleton, Colo., which ended in 12 deaths, schools rushed to install metal detectors and clear backpack rules and to put zero tolerance policies in place. As Trump explains, President Clinton, supported by Congress, also put programs in place including resources for school-based policing, violence prevention, safe schools mental health programs, as well as school emergency preparedness and crisis planning.
Immediately following the Newtown shooting, President Obama announced a plan calling on Congress to pass legislation that would have banned assault rifles and high-capacity magazines and expanded background checks.
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