The 2022 calendar year broke the record for the most school shootings in over four decades and marked one of the most violent years for youth ages 12-17, according to various unofficial counts.
As of Dec. 20, there were 300 shooting incidents on school grounds so far in 2022, compared to 250 in 2021 and 114 in 2020, according to the publicly-accessible K-12 School Shooting Database. A decade earlier, 2010 saw 15 school shootings.
These counts include any acts of gun violence on K-12 public, private and charter school campuses, including mass shootings, gang shootings, domestic violence, shootings at sports games and after-hours school events, suicides and other incidents.
"Unfortunately, this year — this fall in particular — there's been a shooting pretty much every single school day," said David Riedman, founder of the K-12 School Shooting Database. Riedman updates the database daily. "I haven't seen anything in the last five years like this fall."
School shootings this year had already outpaced 2021 by October, when Riedman logged 257 shootings on K-12 campuses.
2022 had the most K-12 school shootings
As school leaders, education advocates, parents and politicians debate solutions to the crisis, the data collected by Riedman and other sources can offer information about why shootings happen at schools in the first place and how to prevent them.
Most shootings are escalated disputes
For example, Riedman's data shows the vast majority of school shootings this year have involved student shooters. In fact, the statistics show more shootings this year than in past years by children and teens, ages 10-18 years old, armed while they're at school, he said.
Most campus shooting incidents occur when a dispute escalates, data across the past five decades shows. According to the school shooting database, 761 shootings between 1970 and now resulted from physical or verbal altercations or prior altercations. So far this year, Riedman attributes 80 of 300 school shootings to that situation.
"So, somebody had a gun. They weren't planning a shooting that day, but something occurred where they had a dispute with somebody. There was a fight," Riedman said. "They, for whatever reason, decided to pull out a gun that they habitually carried in school, and then shoot somebody with it."
This is in line with the increase in guns confiscated and used this year as tracked by Kenneth Trump, president of National School Safety and Security Services, a national consulting firm.
"Historically when we saw guns confiscated in schools they were unloaded," Trump said in an email. "Over the past two years we have not only seen incidents where they are loaded, but where they are also being pulled out and used in the middle of fights in schools and on campuses."
This year also saw the most people fatally shot or injured by a firearm intentionally or accidentally on K-12 school property since at least 2018 — 332, as of Dec. 20, according to the K-12 School Shooting Database.
Injuries and deaths from guns rose since 2018
Riedman said this is reflective of the increased number of people carrying firearms on campuses.
After shootings caused by escalation of disputes, the next highest number — 220 — comes from accidental shootings.
This year, there have been several occurrences of accidental discharges of firearms being carried by students, parents, school resource officers and educators. Regarding accidental shootings by students, they have typically occurred when students brought guns to school to show to classmates and the gun accidentally fired, Riedman said. Earlier this month, a gun brought to school by a 12-year-old accidentally discharged, wounding a classmate, he said.
Many school shooters are students
Students make up the highest percentage — 43% — of school shooters when considering the shooter's role at or relationship to the school, according to the K12 School Shooting Database.
Kenneth Trump, president of the consulting firm National School Safety and Security Services, had warned districts of an "unprecedented uptick" in social and emotional stressors, anxiety and aggression upon students' returns to school from COVID-19 closures and remote learning.
"While educators expected an uptick in aggression, I am not sure they expected the magnitude of the violence and use of weapons we are seeing at schools nationwide," Trump said. He added that both large and small districts are experiencing similar challenges among students, and sometimes even among family members and other adults.
The K12 School Shooting Database also documents incidents involving former students, police officers or school resource officers, staff, those of unknown relationships and more.
People with no relation to a school represent "a relatively small percentage" of school shooters, Riedman said. About 80% of attackers in active school shooting situations from 1970 to now are students or former students.
As school systems consider safety measures to keep dangerous intruders out, this data shows it's also important to have protocols for addressing violent situations involving people who are familiar faces on campuses, Riedman said.
"I think Uvalde showed that sitting under desks in the classroom is not a good strategy. It would have been much better in that situation if the kids ran out of the building."
K-12 School Shooting Database Founder
The statistics also offer insights into what happens after a shooting occurs and how schools react. About 71% of school shooting incidents ended with the shooter fleeing and either escaping or being apprehended away from campus. Once a shot is fired, "it's very rare that the shooter stays at school," Riedman said.
But even with this knowledge, school responses to school shootings most often include multi-hour lockdowns, causing trauma to those hiding at the school, he said.
A one-size-fits-all approach to school security is not effective, Riedman said.
"Now that we're, you know, 20 years after Columbine, there really needs to be some serious research into whether locking down at all is the appropriate approach to take, because there are more incidents and they're more deadly than they were pre-Columbine. So whatever is getting done, it's clearly not effective," Riedman said.
"I think Uvalde showed that sitting under desks in the classroom is not a good strategy," he said. "It would have been much better in that situation if the kids ran out of the building."
Police responding to the shooting situation at Robb Elementary in Uvalde, Texas, have been accused of "indecision, dysfunction, and harm" during the school's more than hour-long lockdown, according to a $27 billion class action lawsuit filed by victims’ families and survivors. Two teachers and 19 students died during the May 24 event.
The Uvalde tragedy has contributed to a climate of great ambiguity and uncertainty around school safety and an increase in parents demanding that school leaders reassess their security and emergency preparedness, Trump said.
"School leaders need to take a more intense approach to training their teachers and support staff, focusing more on human factors and less on quick-fix 'security theater' of more security hardware, products, and technology," Trump said. In his work with schools, he said, he emphasizes training school staff on situational awareness, quickly recognizing changes in behavior patterns, and developing decision-making skills under duress.
"There must be a culture where school safety is everyone's job, every day."
National leaders split
School leaders have been consistent in their calls to address increased school firearm violence with policy changes. Those calls got louder after the Uvalde mass shooting on May 24 that killed 19 children and two adults, becoming the deadliest K-12 mass school shooting after the Sandy Hook Elementary massacre that left 26 children and educators dead almost a decade earlier.
“In that decade — the decade that passed between these two murders of our children — no substantial gun safety legislation was ever signed into law,” said Rep. Lucy McBath, a Democrat from Georgia who lost her 17-year-old son to gun violence in 2012, during a congressional hearing on the Uvalde mass shooting last week. “We cannot afford another 10 years.”
The Bipartisan Safer Communities Act, signed into law in June, provides schools with federal funds toward expanding mental health support, improving learning conditions, and school safety.
However, lawmakers are still starkly divided over gun control measures that educators have long advocated for, namely increasing the age limit for buying firearms and prohibiting AR-15-style weapons, commonly used by mass school shooters.
The issue will now be handed over to the incoming Congress, which will convene Jan. 3.
School shootings mimic national trends
According to the Gun Violence Archive, a nonprofit corporation tracking U.S. gun violence, the number of teenagers and children killed or injured by a firearm has increased steadily, save for a dip in 2018, over the past few years. The number of teenagers ages 12-17 killed or injured by a firearm reached a new high of just over 5,000 in 2022.
These trends are in line with 2020 numbers recently released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and analyzed by the Kaiser Family Foundation showing that firearms have become the No. 1 cause of death for children in the United States, exceeding motor vehicle deaths.
"We find that the United States is alone among peer nations in the number of child firearm deaths," Kaiser researchers wrote. "In no other similarly large or wealthy country are firearm deaths in the top 4 causes of mortality let alone the number 1 cause of death among children."