August 25, 2022
Although rare events, school shootings remain a pressing public policy issue in America. Importantly, available data show a modest upward trend in multiple-casualty school shootings. Few crimes are as shocking as the recent mass shooting attack at the Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, on May 24, 2022, in which 19 students and two teachers were murdered. These high-profile events have led to heated debates about gun control, gun rights, mental health, and privacy rights.
Surveys suggest that Americans today tend to view schools as unsafe, and public fear over school violence has deepened. Indeed, the adverse costs of school shootings go well-beyond the terrible loss of life and grief of the families and communities immediately impacted. The effects reverberate throughout the nation. Not only are teachers and schoolchildren directly exposed, but parents, police, first responders, nurses, surgeons, pastors, counselors, and custodians, to name a few, are also vicariously affected. In the wake of traumatic attacks, schools struggle to cope, and surviving students’ school performance may suffer.
Although research on school shootings has increased recently, much of the literature is inconsistent, primarily due to variations in datasets and school shooting definitions. Most studies employ small nonprobability rather than randomly selected samples of US school shooters or prioritize mass shootings and lethal gun violence. By contrast, the limited quantitative studies tend to be more inclusive by studying fatal and nonfatal gun assaults. Even here, there are disparities in inclusion criteria, as some studies examine school-associated violence that transpires both on and off campus property.
While extensive data have documented school crimes more broadly, there is far less information on school shootings. For instance, the Department of Justice’s National Crime Victimization Survey’s (NCVS) School Crime Supplement provides homicide numbers but exclude precise statistics on school shootings. This lack of consistent, national-level data has hindered the development of systematic research, limiting our capacity to create and implement public policy that is directed toward reducing school shootings and is rooted in rigorous social science. Accordingly, we created a national-level database using open-source information to examine school shootings in the United States and provide stakeholders with the information they need to develop meaningful policies.