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THE RISE OF SCHOOL SHOOTINGS IN THE UNITED STATES

Beatriz Adell Quesada, Angeliki Siafaka, Behavior/Leadership Team

Week of Monday, October 4, 2021


Number of School Shootings (Active and Non-Active) 1990-2021[1]


Despite lower school shooting numbers during the United States (US) COVID-19 lockdowns, the reopening of schools has seen a renewed surge in such shootings. There were 14 school shootings in the period between March and June 2021, the highest total for that period since 1999.[2] School shootings are a complicated phenomenon with widely-debated causes. However, some of the most prominent risk factors for school shootings seem to have been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic and the implications of the measures for its containment. It is very likely that the deterioration of children’s mental health due to the COVID-19 pandemic has been a contributing factor to the rise in school shootings, along with the poor socialization due to the COVID-19 social distancing measures and the increase in family violence. School shootings are likely to cause students to feel insecure in academic environments, posing grave consequences for the short and long-term educational trajectories of student witnesses. The rise in school shootings will likely result in greater media coverage increasing the possibility that young people will come to normalize school shootings, perceiving them as a socially established means of channeling their grievances. More community-wide, government-led efforts would likely help a greater share of society to be trained to identify the warning signs that someone might pose a risk to themselves or others. Schools could set up confidential channels for students to report concerning behavior by fellow students and provide greater access to mental health services.


According to a report by the Safe School Initiative, 61 percent of school shooters have had a documented history of feeling extremely depressed and desperate; additionally, 78 percent of the attackers exhibited a history of suicide attempts or suicidal thoughts.[3] A new study found that two-thirds of US parents reported that their child has experienced a mental or emotional challenge during the COVID-19 pandemic, with the main concern for adolescents being anxiety and depression.[4] The stress and uncertainty about their future in combination with the loss of a support system due to the COVID-19 lockdown measures are very likely to have contributed to the deterioration of children’s mental health. Fewer resources and limited access to services for mental health due to the COVID-19 restrictions have most likely prohibited children from receiving effective care and treatment. The COVID-19 pandemic caused economic distress for many US citizens, which can cause feelings of hopelessness and symptoms of anxiety and depression.[5] Parents’ emotional struggles and the overall deterioration of mental health during the pandemic have very likely magnified the negative psychological effects of COVID-19 on children. Health insurance that includes mental health care has been privatized in the US and is often tied to employment.[6] Therefore, job loss can mean some families are likely unable to provide their children with the mental health care and preventive care interventions that they need. It is very likely that the deterioration of children’s mental health due to the COVID-19 pandemic has been a significant contributing factor to the rise in school shootings. The lasting effects of the phenomenon will likely continue to increase the risk of mass shootings in schools, making effective mental health care for children a priority for school safety.


The lack of socialization and the limited interaction with peers can have a negative impact on children’s cognitive development, social bonding, sense of morality, and overall mental health while the isolation from social networks can impact children’s ability to regulate their negative emotions.[7] The long periods of social isolation due to the COVID-19 lockdown measures are very likely to have a negative impact on children’s development and social skills, likely leading many children to lose a sense of belonging. Social isolation can also lead to increased time spent online, likely exposing children to violent content. Social isolation has been connected to school shootings as an important risk factor before the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic; at least one-third of school shooters have been characterized as loners and had expressed that they felt isolated and alone.[8] Feeling alienated from their peers, school shooters are likely to seek attention or vengeance for what they perceive as a social injustice against them. The COVID-19 lockdowns are very likely to have caused feelings of loneliness and social exclusion and have likely exacerbated the feelings of social rejection for children already experiencing social isolation. It is very likely that returning to in-person teaching will exacerbate feelings of resentment accumulated during the COVID-19 lockdowns, and the subsequent poor socialization will likely continue to be an important risk factor regarding school shootings.


There has been a 70 percent increase in hate between children and adolescents during online chats since the pandemic began.[9] This suggests that the rise in school shootings can likely be connected to the increase in bullying, as studies have found that 87 percent of school shooting perpetrators were victims of severe bullying.[10] The rise in cyberbullying is likely connected to the increased time that children spend online and on social media due to the COVID-19 social distancing measures. As children increasingly use digital platforms for socialization and educational purposes, the supervision of children’s online activity by parents may have decreased, which could likely lead to children committing, or being more easily exposed to, cyberbullying. Boredom and frustration resulting from COVID-19 lockdowns have likely contributed to the rise in cyberbullying, while social isolation combined with increased access to the internet may have led some children and adolescents to become more insensitive, cruel, or aggressive in their online interactions with their peers. Services for the mediation of bullying and in-person support for victims have likely been limited due to the pandemic worsening the problem. As revenge-seeking can be an important motive for committing school shootings, the return to in-person teaching has likely triggered the emotional distress of bullying victims and the grievances accumulated during the COVID-19 lockdowns.


Hospitals have reported treating an increasing number of children with severe child abuse injuries, indicating a rise in the levels of domestic and child abuse during the COVID-19 pandemic.[11] School shooters are often found to have experienced family violence and abuse.[12] The COVID-19 lockdowns have likely exposed children and adolescents to an increased risk of family violence including neglect, physical, psychological, and sexual abuse, and exposure to intimate partner violence. COVID-19-related stress and economic instability have likely contributed to or intensified the levels of domestic child abuse. For children already experiencing family violence, the COVID-19 lockdowns likely worsened the situation as children were forced to be isolated and confined in their homes with their abusers. Access to services and resources that provide help to children experiencing domestic violence, and most importantly in-person support for victims of abuse, were not readily available due to the COVID-19 social distancing measures while child abuse investigations were limited.[13] This is very likely to have contributed to the intensity of the problem. It is very likely that the rise in family violence during the COVID-19 pandemic is to be connected to the recent increase in the number of school shootings across the US. More efforts to safeguard children through greater access to support services and more investigations on child abuse cases would likely help reduce the risk of mass shootings in schools.


Research shows that 51 percent of school shooters had some experience with guns and 68 percent used firearms that they obtained from their home or that of a relative.[14] Gun sales have rapidly increased since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, with background checks for gun purchases exceeding one million per week in March 2020, which is the highest number since the government began tracking them.[15] The political situation in the US, the January 6 Capitol attack, the racial-justice protests, and the general fear and insecurity as a result of the global pandemic are very likely to have led to the spike in gun purchases during the COVID-19 pandemic. Combined with the previously discussed risk factors, the expanding availability of firearms is very likely to have contributed to the escalation of school shootings.


School shootings can have far-reaching consequences for the short and long-term educational trajectories of student witnesses. The National Center for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) estimates that 28% of people who have witnessed a shooting of any kind develop PTSD.[16] These statistics are likely to be higher among the juvenile subset of the population. Their reliance on adults for protection would likely trigger a greater sense of vulnerability in the face of such deadly threats, providing for a more traumatic experience overall. PTSD is commonly associated with a tendency to avoid places, activities, or people that remind the person of the traumatic event, as well as a proclivity for always being on guard for danger.[17] In the aftermath of a school shooting, it is very likely that students will stop feeling secure at school, associating it with danger as opposed to a positive learning environment. Such association would likely be reinforced if they perceive additional security measures adopted by the school in the aftermath of the incident – such as metal detectors and security cameras – as a constant reminder of the threat. Anxiety may drive students to embrace absenteeism, which would very likely translate into poor academic performance in the long run. These students would thus be more likely to repeat a grade, a development that could easily hurt their self-esteem and likely lead them to question their academic aspirations. As a result, they would be more likely to drop out once they reach the 16-year-old threshold and, by extension, more unlikely to pursue a college degree, paving the ground for a loss of opportunities.


Many schools have been locked down recently due to the rise in reports of active shooters.[18] The resulting transition to online learning is likely to trigger more widespread mental health problems as it implies students will have to live in near-isolation for large periods of time, particularly if their parents are unable to perform their jobs from home. An enduring lack of social interactions, including verbal and in-person conversation, could likely obstruct meaningful alleviation of students’ mental health troubles. With mental health problems becoming increasingly widespread, and the peaceful avenues for their remittance becoming increasingly obstructed, it is likely that the future return to in-person teaching will feature new spikes in the number of school shootings. Increased prevalence of school shootings would likely prompt further educational disruption and greater interest within society, likely leading to more media coverage. According to the Guide for Preventing and Responding to School Violence, repeated exposure to violence in the media can have a desensitizing effect, raising the probability that viewers will contemplate using violent methods.[19] Thus, if school shootings start receiving greater media coverage, young people may come to normalize them, perceiving them as a socially established means of channeling their grievances. If this occurs, school shootings could very likely become routine, a development that would trigger a considerable loss of life, and of opportunities for many of those that survive these incidents.


Since the Stoneman Douglas High School shooting in Parkland, Florida took the lives of 17 students and staff on February 14, 2018, 15 states have passed Extreme Risk Laws.[20] These enable immediate family members and law enforcement to act upon warning signs that individuals pose a risk to themselves or others by petitioning Extreme Risk Protection Orders (ERPOs) to temporarily remove guns from them.[21] In this sense, Extreme Risk Laws are only effective to the extent that the would-be shooter is known to possess firearms. However, in 68% of gun-related incidents at schools, the guns had been taken from the home, a friend, or a relative.[22] The fact that most perpetrators of school shootings use firearms that are not their own poses significant obstacles for counteracting school shootings through ERPOs alone, underscoring the need for supplementation. To hinder juveniles’ ability to get a hold of weapons that they do not own, parents and guardians should keep their guns secretly and securely stored, making sure that they are unloaded and locked at all times. The government could likely encourage this behavior by launching a public awareness campaign, alerting citizens to the dangers of leaving loaded weapons within juveniles’ reach.


Despite the large recent take-up of Extreme Risk Laws across states, citizen usage of Extreme Risk laws remains low in many counties.[23] This almost certainly jeopardizes their effectiveness in preventing juvenile gun violence as they are only effective to the extent that citizens use them. To promote greater usage of ERPOs, the government could launch a public awareness campaign alerting citizens to the existence of the ERPO resort and informing them on how to file for it. Society should also be trained to identify the warning signs that someone might pose a risk to themselves or others. This could be done through government-funded online training courses, which could be publicized via government advertising campaigns. Otherwise, acquainting citizens with the ERPO resort would likely be futile: family bonds would very likely lead citizens to underestimate the likelihood that their relative might be a threat in the absence of identifiable evidence to the contrary, jeopardizing the possibility that they would file an ERPO. While some programs, most notably the Sandy Hook Promise’s Know the Signs program, are already in place, more community-wide, government-led efforts would help to reach a greater share of society.


In four out of five school shootings, at least one other person had knowledge of the attacker’s plan but failed to report it.[24] To combat this, schools should set up confidential channels for students to report concerning behavior by fellow students, and foster a climate of trust and open communication that encourages students to make use of these channels. They should also make sure that reporting mechanisms are clear such that students would know who to go to, when, and how in the event that they witness concerning behavior. In order to deter students struggling with their mental health from resorting to gun violence, schools could provide greater mental health services access and make conflict management and aggression management training available to the students. This would likely help them to acquire problem-solving skills, providing them with a range of different avenues for dealing with their troubles and concerns. In the aftermath of a shooting incident, schools should reinforce their school counseling and psychological support provision for students who were affected by the incident, either directly, as injured or witnesses, or indirectly, as close friends of victims or witnesses. This would likely help lower the chances that the incident will have far-reaching consequences on students’ mental health, and ultimately on their short and long-term educational trajectories.


The Counterterrorism Group (CTG) will continue to closely monitor the increase in school shootings and identify ongoing trends and new threats through both the 24/7 Worldwide Analysis of Threat, Crime, and Hazards (W.A.T.C.H.) and Threat Hunter programs. The W.A.T.C.H. Officers and Threat Hunters will continue to track new developments and monitor social media activity for detected threats. This enables strong analysis and reporting to safeguard CTG’s clients and the public and provide them with unbiased and factual information. The NORTHCOM Team will focus on monitoring the rise in school shootings across the US, while the Behavior/Leadership (B/L) Team will continue to analyze the intelligence gathered from a psychological perspective to identify threats and patterns of behavior. CTG will continue to research and monitor the widespread impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic and produce Threat Assessments related to the surge in gun violence.


The CounterTerrorism Group (CTG) has become the global leader in proactively fighting terrorist organizations around the world. CTG specializes in intelligence collection, and analysis, as well as investigative work to counterterrorism. Innovation must be constantly adapted to ensure financial stability. Our 24/7 W.A.T.C.H services produce daily threat intelligence, also designed to complement other intelligence products which utilize analytical and scenario-based planning for the quick assessment of terrorist networks that are fanatical about their profession. CTG’s innovative teams can support terrorism, criminal, financial, and cyber threats to maintain its leading edge in this ever-evolving industry with growing demands among enterprises, academia, and professional institutions alike for intelligence, and security solutions made easy but hard hitting all at once! All CTG products are the perfect go-to source for anyone who’s interested in following geopolitical events, especially those that affect or could potentially affect their personal security. We can provide you with the safety and protection needed to feel secure. No matter if it’s just one person or an entire organization, we can handle everything for your peace of mind. We are the present, and future solution to the ever-evolving global threat landscape. To find out more about our products and services visit us at counterterrorismgroup.com.

________________________________________________________________________ The Counterterrorism Group (CTG)

[1] Statista, by Beatriz Adell Quesada, via Microsoft Excel

[2] As school shootings surge, a sixth-grader tucks his dad’s gun in his backpack, The Washington Post, June 2021, https://www.washingtonpost.com/education/2021/06/24/school-shootings-2021-increase/

[3] The Final Report And Findings Of The Safe School Initiative: Implications For The Prevention Of School Attacks In The United States, United States Secret Service and United States Department Of Education, May 2002, https://www.preparingtexas.org/Resources/documents/TDEM%20Training/G-364%20Toolkit/ssi_final_report.pdf

[4] National Survey: Youth Well-Being During COVID-19, The Jed Foundation, January 2021, https://www.jedfoundation.org/news-views/national-survey-youth-well-being-during-covid-19/

[5] Impact of economic crises on mental health, World Health Organization, 2011, https://www.euro.who.int/__data/assets/pdf_file/0008/134999/e94837.pdf

[6] How the coronavirus’ economic toll could also affect public health, PBS News, March 2020, https://www.pbs.org/newshour/economy/making-sense/how-the-coronavirus-economic-toll-could-also-affect-public-health

[7] ‘A drastic experiment in progress’: How will coronavirus change our kids?, The Hechinger Report, April 2020, https://hechingerreport.org/a-drastic-experiment-in-progress-how-will-coronavirus-change-our-kids/

[8] The Final Report And Findings Of The Safe School Initiative: Implications For The Prevention Of School Attacks In The United States, United States Secret Service and United States Department Of Education, May 2002, https://www.preparingtexas.org/Resources/documents/TDEM%20Training/G-364%20Toolkit/ssi_final_report.pdf

[9] L1ght Releases Groundbreaking Report On Corona-Related Hate Speech And Online Toxicity, L1ght, April 2020, https://l1ght.com/l1ght-releases-groundbreaking-report-on-corona-related-hate-speech-and-online-toxicity/

[10] “School Shootings and Student Mental Health: Role of the School Counselor in Mitigating Violence,” VISTAS, 2015, https://www.counseling.org/docs/default-source/vistas/school-shootings-and-student-mental-health.p

[11] As hospitals see more severe child abuse injuries during coronavirus, 'the worst is yet to come', USA Today, May 2020, https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2020/05/13/hospitals-seeing-more-severe-child-abuse-injuries-during-coronavirus/3116395001/

[12] School Shooters: What's Their Path To Violence?, NPR, February 2019, https://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2019/02/10/690372199/school-shooters-whats-their-path-to-violence

[13] Pandemic masks ongoing child abuse crisis as cases plummet, AP News, March 2021, https://apnews.com/article/coronavirus-children-safety-welfare-checks-decline-62877b94ec68d47bfe285d4f9aa962e6

[14] “School Shooters: History, Current Theoretical and Empirical Findings, and Strategies for Prevention,” SAGE, 2014, https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/pdf/10.1177/2158244014525425#:~:text=shooter%20killed%20himself.-,Vossekuil%20et%20al.,because%20of%20their%20short%20duration.

[15] US gun sales spiked during pandemic and continue to rise, The Guardian, May 2021, https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2021/may/31/us-gun-sales-rise-pandemic

[16] TRAUMA DUE TO SURVIVING A SCHOOL SHOOTING, Accelerated Resolution Therapy Training & Research, n.d., https://artherapyinternational.org/blog/trauma-due-to-surviving-a-school-shooting/

[17] Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), Mayo Clinic, July 2018, https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/post-traumatic-stress-disorder/symptoms-causes/syc-20355967

[18] 'Double trauma': Back to in-person learning, students confront school shootings once again, USA Today News, September 2021, https://eu.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2021/09/08/covid-19-back-school-students-confront-school-shootings-once-again/5770970001/

[19] Guide for Preventing and Responding to School Violence, International Association of Chiefs of Police, 2009, https://bja.ojp.gov/sites/g/files/xyckuh186/files/Publications/IACP_School_Violence.pdf

[20] Extreme Risk Laws Save Lives, Everytown Support Fund, July 2021, https://everytownresearch.org/report/extreme-risk-laws-save-lives/

[21] Ibid

[22] 16 Facts About Gun Violence And School Shootings, Sandy Hook Promise, n.d., https://www.sandyhookpromise.org/gun-violence/16-facts-about-gun-violence-and-school-shootings/

[23] Extreme Risk Laws Save Lives, Everytown Support Fund, April 2020, https://everytownresearch.org/report/extreme-risk-laws-save-lives/

[24] 16 Facts About Gun Violence And School Shootings, Sandy Hook Promise, n.d., https://www.sandyhookpromise.org/gun-violence/16-facts-about-gun-violence-and-school-shootings/

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