Gun violence is the leading cause of death among American children

OAHU, HI - FEBRUARY 18: Kindergarten students lie on the floor during a classroom lockdown drill February 18, 2003 in Oahu, Hawaii. Lockdown procedure is used to protect school children from possible threats on campus such as intruders, terrorism or military attack. (Photo by Phil Mislinski/Getty Images)

A 17-year-old boy died following a shooting near an elementary school in Kannapolis, North Carolina, but the problem of gun violence is often closer to home than most people tend to think.

Gun violence and school shootings are a uniquely American epidemic.

Each day in this country, eight children on average die from gun violence in America. Another 32 are shot and injured

In 2021 there were at least 139 incidents of gunfire on school grounds, resulting in 28 deaths and 80 injuries nationally.

At least two incidents of gunfire on school grounds occurred in New Jersey, resulting in 2 deaths and 1 injury.

A 17-year-old male was shot and killed on August 30, 2021, while leaving Lights On, a program at West Side High School in Newark, that gives young people a safe space to play sports and do laundry after 6 p.m. Police have not identified or arrested any suspects.

An 18-year-old student was shot and killed, and a 17-year-old student was shot and wounded, on June 6, 2021, at the field at Underhill Sports Complex in Maplewood.

The U.S. has had 1,316 school shootings since 1970 and these numbers are increasing.

America’s schools are among the safest places for children to be on a daily basis but for the last 20 years, students, educators, and parents have lived with rare yet devastating school shootings.

This does not have to be. We can foster safe, supportive schools—free from gun violence—by addressing the factors that lead to violent incidents and implementing proven strategies that contribute to a healthy school climate.

From 2013 to 2019, Everytown identified 549 incidents of gunfire on school grounds, including incidents of gun homicides and assaults, gun suicides and attempts, unintentional shootings, and mass shootings.

The majority of people who discharged a gun on school grounds—58 percent—were either current or former students, staff, faculty, or school resource officers.

Similarly, an analysis of the New York City Police Department’s review of active shooter incidents in K–12 schools found that in 75 percent of these incidents, the shooter or shooters were school-age and were current or former students.

In up to 80 percent of incidents, underage shooters obtained their guns from their own home or the house of a relative or friend.

In all incidents of targeted school violence—100 percent—there were warning signs that caused others to be concerned. In 77 percent of the incidents, other people were aware of the shooter’s plans in advance.

A comprehensive school safety plan that keeps guns out of the wrong hands starts with effective gun violence prevention laws and programs that keep guns out of the wrong hands. State and federal elected officials need to pass gun violence prevention laws and then work to make sure that these laws are effectively implemented.

School leaders—including school boards, superintendents, principals, and teachers—should voice their support for these laws with state and federal policymakers.

Nineteen states and DC have enacted Extreme Risk laws: California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Hawaii, Illinois, Indiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia, and Washington.

This policy empowers family members, law enforcement, and, in some states, educators, to get a civil court order to temporarily prevent a person from accessing guns.

Data show that 18- to 20-year-olds commit gun homicides four times higher than the rate of adults 21 and older. Many anti-gun violence activists say laws should prohibit the sale of firearms to people under 21 years old.

The shooter at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, was 19 years old. Under federal law, he could not have bought a handgun at a gun store. Yet he was legally allowed to buy the AR-15 assault-style rifle he used in the shooting because Florida law did not prohibit residents between 18 and 21 years old from buying long guns. 

Requiring background checks on all gun sales can prevent teenagers and prohibited persons from taking advantage of the federal loophole that allows unqualified purchasers to buy a firearm online or at a gun show without a background check.

Supportive schools foster an affirming academic climate while also maintaining secure physical settings. Safe schools are built on trusting relationships among students, staff, and administrators. They are also strengthened through positive relationships with the school’s surrounding community members.

Soon after the Columbine High School shooting in 1999, senior leaders of the National Rifle Association huddled on a conference call to consider canceling their annual convention, scheduled just days later and a few miles away.

Thirteen people lay dead at a high school in Colorado. More than 20 were injured. Images of students running from the school were looped on TV. The NRA strategists on the call sounded shaken and panicked as they pondered their next step into what would become an era of routine and horrific mass school shootings.

And in those private moments, the NRA considered a strikingly more sympathetic posture toward mass shootings than the uncompromising stance it has taken publicly in the decades since, even considering a $1 million fund to care for the victims.

NPR has obtained more than 2 1/2 hours of recordings of those private meetings after the Columbine shooting, which offer unique insight into the NRA’s deliberations in the wake of this crisis — and how it has struggled to develop what has become its standard response to school shootings ever since.

The tapes of the NRA discussions were recorded secretly by a participant and shared on the condition that the participant’s name not be divulged.

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