A recent study published in the journal JAMA Pediatrics challenges the common perception of school shootings in America. Contrary to popular belief, the study reveals that most school shootings carried out by teenagers are not the large-scale, mass casualty events involving assault-style weapons that many Americans imagine. Instead, these incidents are often linked to community violence.
The study examined 253 school shootings conducted by 262 adolescents in the United States between 1990 and 2016. Surprisingly, only a small number of these shootings qualified as mass casualty events, which are defined as those resulting in four or more gunshot fatalities. Out of the analyzed shootings, 119 involved at least one death, and only seven resulted in four or more fatalities.
Furthermore, the study found that handguns were more commonly used in these incidents, rather than assault rifles or shotguns. The researchers from the University of South Carolina and the University of Florida also noted that many of these shootings stemmed from interpersonal disputes.
Dr. Chethan Sathya, a pediatric surgeon and trauma director at Cohen Children’s Medical Center, emphasizes the importance of distinguishing between mass shootings at schools and school shootings driven by community violence. He points out that the perpetrators of these acts of violence often differ in appearance and motivation. Consequently, the solutions to address these issues must also be tailored accordingly.
According to him, there will be two types of shootings in the future. The first one will be the classic and tragic mass shootings where the perpetrator comes with a manifesto and aims to kill as many people as possible. The second type will be gang-related violence or shootings that occur in schools due to interpersonal violence and other drivers of community violence, which are different from the motives behind stereotypical mass shootings.
Data from the American School Shooting Study was analyzed by researchers, who compile information about these shooting events from open-source materials.
The majority of the 262 adolescent shooters were male, with an average age of 16. However, unlike many school shootings that gain media attention, nearly 60% of the shooters in the study were Black.
Approximately 28% were White, and 8% were Latino. Another 5.7% represented various racial or ethnic groups, including Asian or Pacific Islander and indigenous peoples of the Americas.
More than half of the shooters obtained the firearm they used from a family member or relative. Around 30% acquired weapons from the illegal market, while 22% obtained them from friends or acquaintances.
Sathya emphasized the importance of parents taking responsibility for the storage of these weapons, as they can be used for shooting and other forms of violence, as previous studies have shown.
The researchers also examined the economic backgrounds of the shooters. Around 20% of these adolescents lived below the poverty line. Approximately 12% of the households included in the data were headed by women. Within these households, about 26% of residents did not have high school diplomas, and 10% were unemployed.
Sathya suggests that investing in community violence intervention programs can help reduce this type of violence in schools.
He mentioned that implementing policies that focus on developing infrastructure in vulnerable communities is crucial in breaking the cycle of violence. These policies should include the creation of green spaces, parks, employment opportunities, food security, and other social determinants of health and economic mobility. These initiatives are effective in helping at-risk youth break free from the cycle of violence, in addition to addressing community violence.
According to a new study, the use of lower- to moderately powered firearms in school shootings involving adolescents in the US has decreased since the early 1990s. However, the rate of higher-powered firearm use has remained stable over time, with a slight increase since the mid-1990s. The researchers suggest that changes in firearm manufacturing and availability, increasing adolescent interest in more potent weapons, or changes in documentation methods could account for these findings. Additionally, the number of shootings in which the firearm's power was undisclosed in open sources increased during the study period.
The researchers emphasized the necessity of a standardized national reporting system, acknowledging that many Americans rely on media sources to stay informed about school shootings. Despite the increased media coverage and the rise of online publications and social media in the 21st century, our understanding of firearms used in shootings has not necessarily deepened. The researchers stressed the importance of consistent reporting procedures, particularly for infrequent yet significant events like school shootings and other notable acts of violence.
Sathya also highlighted the need for further research on gun violence. He expressed concern over the lack of research in this area and emphasized that studies like this contribute significantly to the field. According to him, understanding the driving factors behind gun violence is crucial in addressing this issue. Sathya emphasized that gun violence is a public health matter rather than a political one, and the focus should be on creating a safer environment and promoting gun safety.