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School Shootings: Statistics and Student Discourse

School Shootings: Statistics and Student Discourse

In the last few years, school shootings have become a very common occurrence (with 346 occurring in 2023 according to the U.S. News & World Report) in our country, which is why many schools — including Hastings High School — have implemented safety measures to prevent them. Some of these measures at HHS include the presence of a security guard, cameras across the school, only using one entrance, doors that lock from the inside, lockdown drills, and much more. With all of these preventative measures, along with living in New York — which, according to Everytown Research and Policy, has the second strongest gun laws and one of the lowest gun ownership and gun violence rates in the country — a school shooting at HHS might seem unlikely to most people, but do all HHS students feel secure at school?

In order to investigate what HHS students thought about the possibility of a school shooting in our school, I conducted a survey to see what students at Hastings know about gun violence, specifically pertaining to mass shooting statistics that have occurred in the US. Through my survey, I attempted to gain an understanding of how informed and up-to-date students are with gun violence news in our country. 

When I asked if students could identify what percent of gun-related homicides come from mass shootings each year in the US, no one picked the right answer. Students thought a much higher percentage of gun-related homicides came from mass shootings, while in reality, mass shootings take up less than one percent of these deaths, as stated by Michael Siegel and Claire Boine in the policy brief “What are the most effective policies in reducing gun homicides?” The fact that everyone thought the amount of mass shootings was over 1% of all gun-related homicides (with it really being around 0.1%of all gun related homicides) might come from the fact that the news outlets cover mass shootings regularly, but not everyday gun homicides. One anonymous student from the survey said, “I would have thought more deaths by firearms come from mass shootings because that is all we hear about in the media.” A few other students had similar opinions, which points to the role of the media in sensationalizing mass shootings and making them seem much more common than they really are. While the statistic of the percentage of gun-related homicides in the US does not take away from the large number of mass shootings that occur each year (which was around 627 in 2023, according to ABC News), it might shed light on people’s fear of being in a mass shooting. 

The second question included in the survey was: What age group of people do you think die the most from gun violence homicides (mass shootings, murder, etc.) each year? 71% of people picked the correct answer, which is 15-23 years old, according to Big Cities Health Coalition. The fact that the majority of students answered this question right shows that HHS students understand who is dying the most from gun violence. Also, the students that took this survey and answered this question are most likely in this age range, which might explain why these students are worried about school shootings.

The final question asked was: What percent of school shootings do you believe are planned in advance? Only 14% of people got the right answer, which is that over 90% of school shootings are planned, as stated by the SandyHook Promise. The reality that most school shootings are planned is important because it means that they can be prevented before they occur. It is hard to prevent school shootings if they aren’t planned out (despite trying to have better mental health awareness and gun restrictions), but if someone is planning a school shooting, there are many ways to find out about it before it becomes a reality. This usually happens on social media where people make threatening posts towards a school with days to weeks to even months in advance to the event, which can be seen throughout Jilain Peterson’s article, “How Mass Public Shooters Use Social Media: Exploring Themes and Future Directions,” in which Peterson claimed that social media was used by school shooters to make threats towards the school, as seen with the 2018 Parkland shooting, 2018 Santa Fe High school shooting, 1999 Columbine shooting, and more. Much of the time, people don’t take these threats seriously and this causes many kids to die when they could have easily been saved. 

After getting an understanding of HHS students’ knowledge on school shooting statistics, I asked them questions on the same survey about our own school. One survey question asked if they thought there was a possibility of a school shooting at Hastings and if they were worried by the thought of one. Most students gave one of two very similar answers: “I don’t think so, but it’s never not a possibility” or “Yes, any school has a chance.” Although this thought might seem disturbing, it can also help keep us safe: when you start thinking your school will never have a school shooting, that school may stop adding safety measures to prevent school shootings and won’t be prepared if there is one. Additionally, as one student said, “many communities who experience school shootings are under the impression that this ‘could never have happened’ at their school, and yet, it did.” Many students also stated that our school is enacting proper safety measures to prevent school shootings, and that there is not much else we can do.

Despite most people stating that our school doesn’t need to do much more for security, a few students talked about improving mental health awareness, and another few students claimed that our government needs to make schools more safe. One student stated, “I do not think there is anything our school can do to prevent a school shooting, as it is an issue that stems from the weak gun laws in the country.”

If you would like to learn more about the statistics discussed in this article or if you want a greater understanding of school shootings and gun violence in our country, here are some resources to look into: 

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