Lethal Violence in Schools
Potential Violence

Because this is a baseline study, we do not have information to tell us if teenagers think that guns are easier to get than in the past, or if more of them have access to guns than they did before. Data from the Youth Risk Behavior Survey (2) indicate that over the 1990s, fewer students were carrying guns, and specifically, fewer were carrying guns to school.

The findings that 61 percent "know someone who bring a gun to school," and that 24 percent of the students believe that they could "easily get a gun if I wanted one," are troubling in that teenagers believe weapons to be readily available. The apparent easy access to guns youths say they have has some serious implications. According to the 2001 report by the Surgeon General on youth violence, the so-called "violence epidemic" of 1983-1993 was tied to more youths carrying guns. "During this era, instant access to weapons, especially firearms, often turned an angry encounter into a seriously violent or lethal one, which, in turn drew the attention from the police in the form of an arrest.. That undercurrent of violent behavior could re-ignite into a new epidemic if weapons carrying rises again (3)."

We wanted to know how many students contemplate lethal violence and how readily they can obtain weapons.
Question % Agreeing
I know kids who could bring a gun to school if they wanted to. 61
I could easily get a gun if I wanted to. 24
There are kids in my school who I think might shoot someone. 37
I heard about someone who has made a plan to shoot someone. 19
I have heard another kid talking about shooting somebody at school. 20
I have thought about shooting someone at school. 08
I have though about how I would go about shooting someone at school. 10

Sixty-one percent of the respondents say they "know kids who could bring a gun to school if they wanted to."

  • Among those who said they do not feel safe at school, the percentage jumps to 74, but even among those who rate their schools as safe or very safe, 50 percent knew someone who could bring a gun to school.
  • Students with a low quality of life were more likely to say that they knew someone who could bring a gun to school than those with a high or medium quality of life.
  • Significantly more of those who said their neighborhoods had some or a lot of crime knew students who had access to guns than those who said they lived in safer neighborhoods.
  • The more highly alienated respondents were, the more likely they were to say they knew kids who could bring a gun to school.
  • Older students were more likely to know a student with access to guns than younger students.
  • 70 percent of rural students said they knew someone who could bring a gun to school.
  • Students who live in the South were more likely to agree than those who live in the East (66 percent cf. 56 percent).
  • Those who said their mothers had a high school education or less (an indicator of lower socio-economic status) were also more likely to agree with the statement than those whose mothers had some college.

Nearly a quarter (24 percent) of all respondents said they could "easily get a gun if I wanted one."

How safe students feel at school again had a definite impact on how many agreed with the statement.

  • 31 percent of those who do not feel safe at school agreed they could get a gun if they wanted one.
  • Those with a perceived low quality of life were also more likely to agree than those with a high quality of life (29 percent cf. 19 percent).
  • Among those with a high alienation index, 28 percent said they could get a gun, compared to 20 percent of those with a low alienation index.
  • Older students were three times more likely to have access to a gun than those in seventh and eighth grades.
  • Among rural students, 34 percent said they could get guns, compared to 23 percent of those who live in urban areas and 20 percent of those who live in suburban areas.

Thirty-seven percent agree "there are kids at my school who I think might shoot someone."

  • 40 percent of girls think there is someone at their school who might shoot someone, compared to 34 percent of boys.
  • Younger students seem less concerned than 11th and 12th graders.
  • White students are also more likely to agree. Forty percent say there are students at their schools who might shoot someone, compared to 26 percent of African-American students, 24 percent of Hispanic students and 25 percent of minority students.
  • 44 percent of rural students said there are students at their school capable of lethal violence, significantly more than suburban students and urban students.
  • Students with high alienation indices and those with medium alienation indices were far more likely to agree than those with low alienation indices.
  • Among those with a lot of or some crime in their neighborhood, 45 percent said there are students at their school who might shoot someone, compared to 31 percent of those who said their neighborhoods had no crime.
  • Students who said they feel unsafe in school were more than twice as likely than those who feel safe at school to say there are kids in their school who might shoot someone.

One in five students has heard about someone in their school who has a plan to shoot someone. This refers to the number of students who have heard rumors that one of their fellow students has a plan to shoot someone.

  • 23 percent of the girls say they have heard about someone in their school who has a plan to shoot someone, compared to only 15 percent of the boys who said they have heard that type of rumor.
  • Older students are far more likely to say they have heard about someone with plans to shoot someone than students in seventh and eighth graders.
  • African-American students were the least likely to say they had heard about someone with a plan for lethal violence, and Hispanic students were the most likely.
  • Students in rural schools are more likely to have heard such rumors; 23 percent say they have heard of someone with a plan to shoot someone, compared to 18 percent of suburban students and 19 percent of urban students.
  • Slightly more students who mostly get D's and F's agreed with the statement than did students who get better grades.
  • Students whose quality of life is low are more likely to say they have heard rumors of a plan for a shooting than those who have a high quality of life.
  • Students with a medium alienation index were more likely to say they had heard of someone planning to commit lethal violence than those with either low or high alienation indices.
  • Those who reported their neighborhoods have some or a lot of crime were more apt to have heard rumors about shootings than those who said their neighborhoods are safe.
  • Among those who said they do not feel safe at school, 30 percent have heard rumors of plans for a school shooting, compared to 13 percent of those who say they feel very safe or extremely safe at school.

Twenty percent say they have heard another student talking about shooting someone at school. This refers to the number of students who have directly overheard other students say they want to shoot someone at school.

  • Students in seventh and eighth grades were far less likely to say they had heard someone talking about shooting someone at school than those in 9th and 10th grades and those in 11th and 12th grades.
  • Hispanic students were least likely among the ethnic groups to say they had heard another student talking about using lethal violence.
  • Rural and urban students were more likely to have overheard another student talking about shooting someone than those who live in the suburbs.
  • Students who get mostly D's and F's in school were far more likely to have heard another student talking about shooting someone than those who get mostly A's, or mostly B's and C's.
  • Those with a low quality of life were twice as likely as those with a high quality of life index to say they had heard someone talking about shooting someone.
  • Highly alienated students were also more likely to agree with the statement than those with a medium alienation index or a low alienation index.
  • Students living in neighborhoods with more crime are more likely to say they have heard another student talk about carrying out a shooting at school.
  • 32 percent of the students who say they do not feel safe at school said they have heard another student talking about shooting someone, compared to 12 percent of those who say they are extremely safe or very safe at school.

Eight percent of the respondents said they have thought about shooting someone at school.

Responses to the question "I have thought about shooting someone at school."

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(2) Youth Risk Behavior Survey is a national school-based survey conducted every two years by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in collaboration with federal, state and local partners.

(3) U.S. Department of Health and Human Service. (2001). Youth Violence: A Report of the Surgeon General. Rockville, MD: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Injury Protection and Control; Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, Center for Mental Health Services; and National Institutes of Health, National Institute of Mental Health.

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