Can We Prevent School Shootings?

Two questions asked students what they would do if they heard a student talking about shooting someone at school, and a third, open-ended question asked what they thought teachers and other school staff could do to prevent a school shooting.

If they heard a student talking about shooting someone at school, only about half the students would tell an adult.

Fifty-four percent of the respondents said they would tell an adult, but there were some variations in the likelihood they would report such an incident:

  • Younger students are more significantly more likely to tell someone than older students.
  • African-American, Hispanic and other minority students are less likely to tell than white students.
  • 61 percent of those who get mostly A's would tell, compared only 42 percent of those who get mostly D's and F's.
  • Students with a high quality of life index are more likely to tell an adult than those with a low quality of life index (63 percent cf. 46 percent).
  • Media usage seems to have somewhat of an impact; 59 percent of those whose media usage is low would tell, but only 51 percent of those whose media usage is high would.
  • 65 percent of those with a low alienation index would report to an adult, compared to only 42 percent of those with a high alienation index.
  • Those who perceive their schools to be extremely safe or very safe are far more likely to confide in an adult than those who believe their schools are not safe.
If they overheard another student talking about shootings someone at school, 80 percent said they are most likely to tell a teacher.
Rank Who would you tell %
1 Teacher 80
2 Parent 75
3 Principal 62
4 Guidance Counselor 68
5 School Security Guard or Police Officer 51
6 Some other adult 37
7 Coach 29
8 None of the above *

* Negligible response

  • Younger students are most likely to tell a teacher; 87 percent of seventh and eighth graders said they would tell a teacher, compared to 75 percent of 9th and 10th graders and 81 percent of 11th and 12th graders.
  • African-American students are more likely to tell a teacher than white, Hispanic or minority students.
  • Rural and suburban students are more likely to confide in a teacher than urban students.
  • Students who spend the least amount of time using media are more likely to tell a teacher.
  • Students who have a low alienation index are also more apt (83 percent) to confide in a teacher than those who have a high or medium alienation index.
  • Students who perceive their schools as being unsafe are less likely to tell a teacher than those who perceive their schools to be extremely or very safe.

When asked, "What do you think teachers and other school staff can do to stop school shootings from happening?" nearly a quarter said teachers need to care more about their students.

Students responded to an open-ended question about how they thought their schools could prevent school violence. The vast majority of responses (85 percent) can be divided among eight major categories. The ninth most popular response (4 percent) was to leave the question blank.

What students said about how to stop school violence:
Category % of responses
Teacher should care more about the students. 23
There's nothing that can be done to stop school shootings. 13
Teachers should intervene, take a more active role in their students' lives, in the classroom and out. 12
Educate students about the issue of school violence. 11
Don't know how to stop it. 5
Teachers should treat all students equally. 4
No response. 4

The 12 percent of respondents who are most inclined toward violence were twice as likely to say there is nothing that teachers or school staff can do to stop the shootings.

The students whose responses identified them as having a high propensity toward violence (Section 3, page 10) followed a similar pattern of responses, except that they were more than twice as likely (27 percent cf. 13 percent) as the general population to say that nothing can be done.

  • 20 percent of these students responded that teachers should care more, compared to 23 percent of the general population.
  • 12 percent thought teachers should listen to their students.
  • 9 percent called for more security measures.
  • 8 percent suggested that teachers and school staff should intervene if they see problems developing with students.

The 53 students determined to be most dangerous, i.e., they have both means (guns) and an inclination for violence, represent too small a base for their responses to be valid statistically. It is interesting to note, however, that 21 (40 percent) responded that there is nothing schools can do to stop them. Another 15 percent said that teachers should care about them more, and 8 percent felt that teachers should treat everyone equally. The remaining categories had no more than two respondents each from this group of students.

What the students told us about how to stop school violence:

The most popular response (23 percent) was that students wanted their teachers to care about them and become emotionally involved in their lives. They want teachers and staff to support them and be positive role models for them in their treatment of other people. They want teachers to be their friends, advisors and confidants.

Examples of responses:

  • Just show support, and make sure there is a positive environment for all students in class.
  • At least pretend to give a crap about us and where our lives are going instead of, 'Oh hurry up, we need to get through all this work before the end of the year...
  • Show the students love and care and let them know that they can talk to them whenever they feel the need to.
  • Besides acting as a teacher towards students, they could be a friend or mentor and help students that they think are at risk of being violent.
  • I think a teacher should not consider themselves solely (sic) a teacher but also a leader. Even though a student would never admit it, they look up to their teachers as role models. I think that being a nice and caring person as well as a good example setter is a key quality to being a good teacher.

The second most popular response was that there is nothing schools can do to prevent violence (13 percent). Students cite everything from the determination of the potential shooter to fate as the rationale behind their answers.

Examples of responses:

  • Absolutely nothing. Honestly, if a kid wants to shoot someone, they're (sic) not going to be stupid enough to warn every one first. They would do it out of surprise.
  • Nothing...if we want to shoot someone we will. The human being is a very strong thing when it stands alone and someone with the help of others. If we want to do something bad enough, we will find a way. No matter what.
  • Nothing.. I think they should all back off.. Whatever happens - just plain happens. If something horrific happens, then I believe that it is just meant to be, and nothing anybody says can stop that.
  • There isn't a lot they could do since they can't even stop someone from wearing a hat when they aren't supposed to.
  • Personally, I don't think there is a lot anyone can do. The person who commits such crimes are (sic) the people who are mentally unstable. Teachers cannot help that...

Twelve percent of respondents said that they wanted teachers and staff to take a more active part in their lives, and not just in the classroom. They are requesting intervention, whether it takes the form of reporting potential problems to the proper authorities (school officials, police, etc.) or stopping kids from bullying and teasing other students.

If a student said "Teachers should stop bullies" as his or her primary solution to school shootings, then the response was included in the intervention category, but we counted a number of students - 190 (9 percent) - who included putting a halt to bullying as part of their response, although they may have listed something else first.

Examples of responses:

  • Talk to the kid's parents, or talk to the police. And then have them take it from there.
  • Stop kids from harassing other kids. I mean, actually do something about it, besides just saying, 'Don't do it anymore'.
  • Help the kid make friends. Talk to the kids and actually listen, and not just here (sic) what they want to.
  • I think the main reason people shoot up schools is because they are picked on, and bullied a lot. Therefore, I think the best way would be more enforcement of people picking on people.
  • Wake up and take action. Bullying goes on right there in the classroom, but teachers always have favorites. They always like the athletes and the really preppy girls. That's just the way high school is. The jocks and the preps are the ones who do most of the teasing. They do it to me and my friends because we don't dress like them and we're not as cool as they are. They look at us like trash. If teachers would stop taking sides it would be better. If they would stop the bullying when they see it. And believe me, they see it. I one got detention because I called someone a dumb jock (in sixth grade). The boy had just called me fat, ugly and a nerd. When I hit him back with an insult, I heard, 'I think you have detention on Wednesday, Michelle!' from my teacher. She ignored what all the popular athlete had done and only punished me. It was completely unfair. And that was just one example.

Many students (12 percent) were very adamant about teachers paying more attention to them. They think that teachers don't have to go to great lengths to find the potential problems - they just need to be more in tune with their classes. Teachers don't need to befriend their students, just be aware of them.

Examples of responses:

  • Pay attention to kids' behavior and what they say to other kids.
  • Learn to read the kids reactions to incidences (sic) at school, and observe their overall view of life.
  • Open their eyes, it's not like it's a thing out of nowhere. It may not be TOTALLY easy or anything, but if they tried they would realize that kids are disturbed, having a bad day, etc...
  • Listen to what the students are saying. Not just by hearing, but by actions, and written things.

Safety precautions are another popular student suggestion, with 11 percent listing increased security measures as their main concern. Many believed that metal detectors or other checks as students enter the building would help decrease school shootings. Responses ranged in severity from instituting lock downs to simply having an evacuation plan.

Examples of responses:

  • Be more on the lookout and install safety equipment in classrooms and/or entrances to schools. Police and guards would help too. Make it like a medium security prison.
  • Install metal detectors in schools and close off some of the entrances that are being used regularly.
  • Have different drills and just be totally prepared for whatever could happen.

Another suggestion was to address the issue of school violence in schools more openly (5 percent). Students believe that being better informed about gun safety and the consequences of violence (both legally and emotionally) will help prevent school violence.

Examples of responses:

  • Talk about the shootings that have happened and what happened to the shooters afterward.
  • Teachers and school staff could organize more speakers to come to the school and inform kids how serious these shootings and the consequences are. I don't think kids my age really know the real consequences of some of their actions.
  • Teach the kids more about gun control and more about learning to take their tempers out on other things like punching a pillow or something that has nothing to do with hurting another person.

Don't Know
Five percent of the students say they don't know what to do.

Examples of responses:

  • If I knew I would have told someone.
  • I really don't know. I wish I did. I also hope that by the time I become a teacher, I will know something to do that may stop school shootings.
  • I'm not sure what to say because I love my privacy and don't want metal detectors or anything in my school.

Respondents also felt that all students are not treated equally at school (4%). They cite many different reasons for this treatment, including race, athletic ability, popularity, social cliques, academic performance and socio-economic status. Students believe that if teachers stop favoring one group or another there will be less cause for resentment among students, which translates to fewer instances of violence.

Examples of responses:

  • Make sure that all of their pupils are equally given attention. I know some teachers that value other students more because they are their 'pets' no matter what I do. I tend to feel frustrated and left out too.
  • Stop favoring kids who are athletic and smart and pretty, but favor all kids.
  • Teachers can stop being bias, racist, prejudice and judgmental (sic). They can encourage creativity and differences rather than discouraging them.

Other noteworthy responses

  • I go to Heritage High in Conyers GA, which had a shooting about 2 yrs ago... I don't think there is anything physically that a teacher or faculty member could do to prevent those things from happening because if a kid really wanted to do something like shoot up a school they'd find a way to do it and you couldn't stop them. I think the best way to prevent such things from happening is to teach principles and values - stress the importance of life and the worthlessness of violence.
  • There's nothing you can do. And they need to stop targeting the 'trench coats' 'freaks' whatever. I AM ONE! and they think that if anyone is going to it's us. They are SOOO far from the truth it's not even funny. If it's anyone it'll be the kids that are ostracized, picked on, and constantly made fun of. Oh and by the way EVERYONE has a plan to shoot up the entire school, it's what we do when we're bored. It doesn't mean we're going to do it, it just means we have no school spirit (usually because our school doesn't like us) and are bored.
  • Care. Not listen to the foolish stereotypes about video games, media, or bullies inducing violence. It is hate, and wanting to get back at those who hurt you. I was almost like the infamous Clebold and Harris (Columbine), except I am much, much smarter. I had in my possession all the tools needed to refine and deploy a new chemical, directly related to that of serin gas. NO one suspected a thing, they all thought I was just quiet, or that maybe I would shoot someone. Guns are for the foolish, and indeed are a most dishonorable weapon. I, however, recovered from that dip of insanity I had. However, I had quite good reason to get back at those who had hurt me...and I still do. When you feel like you do, wanting to harm a school, it is because it is a massive, large place full of people. When you hate out of need for vengeance, you slowly begin to hate the entire human race. IT doesn't matter where, but a school is the most convenient...The stereotypes are royal BS. You need to care, notice, and understand. Clebold and Harris, and many others, ranging from angry businessman to even some bombers, kill because of seething hatred for all human beings...Understanding is the key...
  • Nothing. It's up to the parents to prevent school shootings from happening. It's up to the parents to teach their children about right and wrong, about morals, about ethics. It's up to the parents to make sure that the child cannot have access to a weapon. The school staff and teachers can't do anything to prevent it. They only see the children, what? 7-8 hours a day? That's not enough time, so it's up to the parents to prevent their children from becoming mentally deranged in my opinion.
  • Pretty much everything my school system is doing now is all show. They fail to recognize that if our school system/society were screwed up enough to produce some one who wants to shoot up a school, we have bigger problems than a few dead kids every few months in the entire US so I say they need to confront the ass-backwards lifestyle of the majority instead the minority of people who just creep others out.
Percent of students agreeing to statements
Questions % agreeing
There are kids at my school who I think might shoot someone. 37
I know kids who could bring a gun to school if they wanted to. 61
I have heard another kid talking about shooting somebody at school. 20
I heard about someone who has made a plan to shoot someone at school. 19

In examining the school and community characteristics for those students who appear to come from the more dangerous schools, we looked at geographic location, urban city and students' rating of the crime in their neighborhood, comparing the estimated marginal means of their responses.

Based on those comparisons, we found:

  • Schools in neighborhoods students perceive as unsafe probably are.
  • Schools in small towns/rural areas were generally rated as more dangerous by their students than were urban and suburban schools. Urban schools were rated more dangerous than suburban schools.
  • There are differences in ratings of school safety by region of the country, but those ratings also interacted with the urban city of the school.
  • For students who live in the East, suburban schools were rated as less dangerous than rural and urban schools.
  • For students who live in the South, the urban city of the school made little difference, although rural schools were rated more dangerous than suburban schools, and urban schools were considered the least dangerous.
  • For students in the Midwest, rural and urban schools were rated as more dangerous than suburban schools.
  • For students in the West, rural schools were rated as more dangerous than urban or suburban schools.
Most, moderately, and least dangerous areas of United States Regions
Region Most Dangerous Moderately Dangerous Least Dangerous
East Rural Urban Suburban
South Rural Suburban Urban
Midwest Rural Urban Suburban
West Rural (tie)Urban/Suburban (tie)Urban/Suburban