School gun violence torments America's youngest generation

More than 1,000 incidents involving firearms have shaken America's schools since 2018 — a dramatic increase over any similar period since at least 1970, according to the K-12 School Shooting Database.

Why it matters: The stunning rise in gun violence on school property is reshaping the daily lives of America's youngest generation, putting children at the center of a previously unthinkable number of life-or-death moments.

What's happening: 273 people were killed or wounded on school grounds from 303 gun-related incidents last year alone — both record highs, according to the database.

  • Guns are the leading cause of death for U.S. children and teens and firearms accounted for nearly 19% of childhood deaths in 2021, according to the CDC.
  • Gun-related incidents outside of the classroom, such as gun suicides and gun murders, reached record levels in 2021 and "swatting" calls, or fake reports of shootings or bombs that prompt SWAT team responses and lockdowns, are rising.
  • "The threat of gun violence has become a constant in children's lives in this country and we're seeing the impact of it," Sarah Burd-Sharps, the senior director of research at Everytown, told Axios.
Data: Center for Homeland Defense and Security; Note: Includes any incident when a gun is "brandished, is fired, or a bullet hits school property for any reason." Chart: Tory Lysik/Axios Visuals

The daily impacts of gun violence on children extend to the measures schools take to prevent future incidents.

  • Nearly all (98%) K-12 public schools reported drilling students on lockdown procedures as of the 2019-2020 school year, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.
  • 96% of schools reported having written procedures for an active shooter incident.

Research suggests safety measures can be effective in preventing gun-related incidents, but they risk disrupting the norms of the school day and have become controversial among some parents and activists.

  • "At nine o'clock [students] have to hide in the bathroom for long periods of time and be silent and then at 10 o'clock, they need to learn math," Burds-Sharps said.
  • "It's not a recipe for America's schoolchildren to learn and to achieve in school and to be able to focus and to concentrate."

State of play: Black children and teens disproportionately bear the burden of gun violence and were about five times as likely as white kids to die from gunfire in 2021, according to a Pew Research Center analysis of CDC data.

  • While guns became the leading cause of death for all American children in 2020, they have been the leading cause of death for Black children for over a decade.

Dr. Katie Donnelly, a pediatric emergency medicine physician at Children's National Hospital in Washington, D.C., said that she interacts "with a lot of kids who really aren't thinking about what they want to be when they grow up because they don't have an expectation that they're going to grow up."

By Erin Doherty


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