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The persistent problem of weapons in schools

No Weapons Signs in School
Although school violence declined sharply between 1993 and 2003, improvements have leveled off since then, leaving a smaller but still significant number of violent incidents each year.

Many of us who aren't teachers might be inclined to think that weapons rarely show up on our local high school or middle school campuses – that knives and guns mostly show up in that other neighborhood, the one we bought a nice house to avoid. Or if we do live in tough environs, we might assume that our own child is safe because he or she doesn't “run with that crowd”. We might live in a state with a strict attitude towards firearms – or one with relatively low incidence of school violence.

Despite our denials, school violence is a stubborn problem – and even though it’s gotten better with time, it’s far from solved. According to the CDC, roughly 17 students from across the United States are killed at school every year. Although the number of students who reported carrying weapons to school over the last 30 days dropped from around 26% to 16% over the period from 1993-2003 – having peaked during the crack epidemic – the percentage has remained flat ever since.

Meanwhile, the proportion of children who report having missed one or more days of school over the prior 30 days because they felt unsafe has actually risen slightly between the ’90s and today, according to statistics from the CDC’s Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System (YRBSS). Although Columbine and other high school shootings may be what come most readily to mind when we discuss school violence, the evidence suggests a low-grade fever of a problem that a minority of students suffer regularly from.

The FBI’s statistics show that “personal weapons” like fists or feet were by far the most frequent tool of school violence between 2000 and 2004, having been used 3.2 times as often as all other weapons combined. Weapons like knives are still popular (far moreso than handguns, anyway – in 2004, 2,852 crimes involving cutting instruments were reported in the US, compared to a total of 858 for all types of firearms).

So although the FBI has concluded that school violence is on a long-term downward trend – seepage 31 – and weapons are less common now than they have been in the past, there is a minority of students who feel the need to arm themselves before they leave for the day. In every state in the union, it’s illegal for students to carry weapons into school, so it’s important for signs to reinforce the tough message that responsible administrators convey, and surely all agree on: schools are no place for violent behavior.

 
 
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