Mar 30, 2021 - Politics & Policy

Report: 67% of students who planned school shootings had "potential access" to guns

Photo of 7,000 pairs of empty shoes on the lawn outside the White House

The lawn outside the U.S. Capitol, covered with 7,000 pairs of empty shoes to memorialize the children killed by gun violence since the Sandy Hook school shooting. Photo: Saul Loeb/AFP via Getty Images

67% of students who plotted school shootings had "potential access to one or more firearms," according to a report from the Secret Service published Tuesday.

Why it matters: The U.S. suffers one of the highest rates of gun violence, with 57 times as many school shootings as the other six G7 countries combined, CNN reports. The issue is a topic of national debate once again after a string of recent shootings.

Findings: The study, conducted by the Secret Service's National Threat Assessment Center, analyzed 100 students who plotted 67 attacks in K-12 schools nationwide from 2006 to 2018.

  • Students who plotted attacks shared many similarities with students who perpetrated attacks — including histories of school discipline, bullying, mental health issues and/or substance use.
  • They were often impacted by adverse childhood experiences like abuse and were "most often motivated" to plan an attack due to interpersonal conflict with classmates.

The study called on schools and communities to facilitate tangible steps for identifying and reporting concerning behaviors, especially among students themselves, who the report said are "best positioned" to identify warning signs from their classmates.

  • Nearly one-third of plotters conducted research into prior mass attacks, with many displaying interest in the 1999 Columbine shootings as well as Nazism and white supremacy.
  • Many also planned attacks associated with certain dates, particularly in the month of April, the anniversary of the Columbine attack.
  • About 94% of plotters talked about their attacks, and 75% were detected by authorities because of it.

The bottom line: The purpose of the study — the most comprehensive analysis of school shootings since Columbine, per AP — is not to identify students for arrest, but to recognize early warning signs so that no one falls through the cracks.

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