Tuesday, February 15, 2022

Instances of gunfire on school grounds up dramatically

There were at least 136 instances of gunfire on school grounds between Aug. 1 and Dec. 31, according to a report Friday from the gun control advocacy group Everytown for Gun Safety, reported the USA Today. The figure is nearly four times the average for that period since Everytown began tracking gunfire on school grounds in 2013.

The shootings killed 26 people and wounded 96, marking the most recorded instances of gunfire and people shot in the five-month period since 2013, according to the report.

"This has been by far the most violent first half of the school year in recent history," said Shannon Watts, founder of Moms Demand Action, which is part of Everytown.

The new report comes nearly four years to the day after the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High in Parkland, Florida. On Valentine's Day 2018, a former student walked into the school's freshman building, fired more than 100 rounds over the course of six minutes and killed 17 students and staff and wounded 17 others.

The gunman pleaded guilty last year to first-degree murder charges. His sentencing trial, which could result in the death penalty, has been repeatedly delayed.

Gun violence has risen across the U.S. during the coronavirus pandemic. More Americans died of gun-related injuries in 2020 than in any other year on record, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data. More than half were deaths by suicide.

Children and teens have been particularly affected by the gun violence surge. In 2020, the numbers of kids fatally shot both increased by more than a third from the previous year, according to data from the Gun Violence Archive, a nonprofit research group that uses a combination of police statistics and media reports.

The surge continued into 2021, when more than 1,500 kids were killed and more than 4,000 injured, according to the archive. So far this year, more children and teens have been shot compared with the same time last year, according to the archive.

The new Everytown report focuses on gunfire at K-12 schools, colleges and universities, where gunfire includes unintentional discharges, arguments that escalate to gun violence, gun violence that comes onto school grounds, shootings at sporting events, random shootings and more.

Data from another research group reveals similar trends. The K-12 School Shooting Database found there have been at least 190 shooting incidents at K-12 schools since August.

The database, based at the Naval Postgraduate School’s Center for Homeland Defense and Security, documents every instance a gun is brandished or fired or a bullet hits school property for any reason.

"The number of incidents in this time period alone is four-to-eight times more than the full years in the database between 1970-2017," said lead researcher David Riedman.

During that time frame, 171 people were killed or injured on school property, the youngest being 6 years old, Riedman said. Most of the victims were teachers or students, and some were nonstudents attending high school football or basketball games. Most of the shooters were students, a few were parents and one was a teacher.

Shootings in schools typically capture national attention only when they are mass shootings, often defined as four or more people killed, not including the shooter. The issue drew concern again in November, when a student at Oxford High School outside Detroit fatally shot four students and injured seven others.

But many more school campuses have seen smaller-scale or targeted shootings inside or outside school buildings or after dismissal. Other incidents have happened on school grounds but have not involved members of the school community.

The incidents this year have happened across the country – in urban, suburban and rural areas – and no specific region has a higher concentration of incidents, Riedman said.

"This is truly a nationwide problem," Riedman said. "These shootings are representative of the increase in gun violence that is occurring across the country. Most of these incidents are simple disputes between students that escalate into a serious shooting because someone involved is carrying a gun."

"On the four-year anniversary, it's nice to look back at the work that we've done that's continuing to help improve the safety of schools," Kaufman said. "There's been a lot of work that I've done with Students Demand Action and Everytown in the past four years with secure storage policies and red flag laws being passed at the state level."

Education on how to securely store firearms and clear guidelines for schools that choose to conduct active shooter drills are key to reducing shootings on school grounds, according to Everytown. The group released initial school safety recommendations for the Biden administration earlier this year.

Among other points, the recommendations direct the Department of Education to "develop a strategy to encourage school districts to send parents secure firearm storage information and raise awareness about the importance of secure storage in keeping schools safe."

The recommendations also "direct the Department of Justice to enforce the laws that prevent underage students from purchasing firearms and continue to call for Congressional action to close the loopholes in the background check law."

Everytown estimates that about half of gun owners don't store their guns securely, and at least 5.4 million children live in a home with at least one unlocked and loaded firearm. About 80% of people who engaged in mass shootings at K-12 schools stole guns from family members, according to a recent report from the Justice Department's National Institute of Justice.

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