The deadly school shooting at Robb Elementary in Uvalde, Texas, marked the deadliest school shooting in the United States since the 2012 bloodbath at Sandy Hook, Elementary in Newtown, Connecticut.
According to police, an 18-year-old shooter killed two teachers and 19 students before being killed by law enforcement.
Although mass shootings the magnitude of Uvalde or Sandy Hook are still rare, researchers at the Naval Postgraduate School have recorded data from 504 gun violence incidents at high, middle, and elementary schools since the beginning of 2020.
The number completely eclipses the previous eight years combined.
The data collected by the researchers include a wide range of cases, including students opening fire in classrooms or brandishing guns in bathrooms, gyms, cafeterias, or classrooms.
The data also includes violence not involving students, students who have used firearms to take their own lives at school, and overnight shootings near school grounds.
A staggering number of incidents have involved teens who used violence to attempt to resolve conflicts spur-of-the-moment.
According to criminologist and co-founder of the database at the Naval Postgraduate School’s Center for Homeland Defense and Security, David Riedman, “The majority of those incidents are escalations of disputes. There are more teenagers carrying concealed handguns in school who are getting into fights and shooting people. And that is not something that we were seeing before the pandemic,” said Riedman.
In Chicago Public Schools, violence and other traumas have become so common for students that the district developed a 15-page guide titled “The Day After” to help staff and educators coach students through the processing of painful events.
Overburdened mental health system
According to researchers, an overburdened mental health system combined with the proliferation of guns in homes has added fuel to the increase in school gun violence and left many students without their help.
Violent gun incidents have increased across the U.S. since the beginning of the pandemic, not only in school settings.
“Gun violence is like a flood, and when your community is flooded, all your buildings take on water,” according to Dewey Cornell, a director of the Virginia Youth Violence Project at the University of Virginia, who is also a psychologist.
Cornell emphasized that schools are among the safest places for children. Most killings take place in public streets, homes, or other locations.
However, he believes that school violence and shootings will continue unless the United States addresses its drastic shortage of school mental health workers.
Mass school shootings have continued to be a grim presence in the U.S. Since 2012, 73 students have been murdered in school settings, according to James Alan Fox, who studies mass killings as a criminologist at Northeastern University.
In 2020 there was one large-scale school shooting. During a rampage at a high school in Oxford, Michigan, a gunman shot and killed four students.
After the Uvalde school shooting, hundreds of Oxford High School students conducted a walkout. They formed a letter’ U’ on the school’s football field to show solidarity and support for the Texas elementary school.
A spokeswoman for the school said the walkout was part of a nationwide effort calling for gun law changes.
In 2020, many schools across the U.S. were closed due to Covid-19 precautions, and there were no large-scale school shootings of that magnitude.
However, experts are concerned that increased school violence may continue. They point to students’ stress during two years of the pandemic and schools’ lack of resources to help them. They also point out factors, including America’s divided cultural and political climate.
According to Daniel Webster, co-director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Violence Solutions, “There’s a lot of forces converging here that are creating a stew of anger, grievance, and easy access to firearms.”
He added, “It’s incredibly alarming. We should not think of this as normal, we should not think of this acceptable, and we must act to protect children. We have failed as a society if we don’t protect children to be able to come home safely from school.”