School shootings are increasing — and changing. Easily accessible guns are to blame.

Opinion: School shootings are increasing — and changing. Easily accessible guns are to blame.

Jillian Peterson is a professor of criminology and criminal justice at Hamline University. James Densley is a professor of criminal justice at Metropolitan State University. They are the co-founders of the Violence Project and co-authors of “The Violence Project: How to Stop a Mass Shooting Epidemic.” David Riedman is the co-creator of the K-12 School Shooting Database at the Naval Postgraduate School.

School shootings more than doubled this September compared with the same month in previous years. But in considering how to deal with these tragic events, it is important to recognize how they are different from the Columbine, Sandy Hook and Parkland attacks that most people think of when they hear the term “school shooting.”

As we saw with the fight that ended in a shooting in an Arlington, Tex., classroom on Wednesday, recent school shootings are an extension of the everyday gun violence that is devastating communities across the United States. Many are disputes that escalate simply because of the prevalence of firearms.

The Center for Homeland Defense and Security’s comprehensive K-12 School Shooting Database tracks each time a gun is brandished or fired on school property. (The rare cases in which a gun is brandished without being fired usually involve the potential shooter being disarmed, or gun failure; the center refers to all incidents, however, as shootings.) In September 2017, it recorded eight such incidents. In September 2018, there were 18, and in the same month in 2019, there were 14.

In September 2020, when many schools were closed or socially distanced, there were 24 incidents — which seems counterintuitive, but these shootings had different characteristics. They generally involved adult perpetrators and victims; and they apparently took place on the grounds of closed schools chiefly because these outdoor spaces remained accessible during the pandemic, while many other public areas, such as shopping centers, did not.

In 2021, many schools reopened. In September, the center recorded 55 school shootings — more than double the total for most full years in the past.

Our analysis of the data shows these incidents were different in nature than the school shootings of previous years. They were more likely to take place during the school day or at sporting events. Both the shooters and the victims were more likely to be children or teenagers, as opposed to adults, compared with previous years. The perpetrators were more likely to be students of the school or in some cases, their family members.

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