Why you should care
Because kids and guns are not a wholesome combo.
Headlines sensationalizing juvenile violence are everywhere, from school shootings to gang wars. But appearances aren’t always what they seem. As of December 2, America experienced 352 mass shootings in 2015. But in some places, gun presence is actually declining. According to a recent report from the FBI, over the past 20 years,
the percentage of students who reported bringing a weapon to school dropped from 12 percent to 5 percent.
As it turns out, elementary students in the early ’90s were at a higher risk of being victims — and perpetrators — of violence than students at any other time in the last 50 years. In 1993, 12 percent of kids reported carrying a weapon on campus. Ren & Stimpy lunch box — check. Saturday night special — check.
There are several reasons for the drop in preteens packing heat. On the heels of the crack epidemic and with the rise of juvenile “superpredators,” the government created stricter punishments for underage crimes, along with new safe-storage laws. That prompted parents to stop keeping guns in the home, says professor Daniel Webster, director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Policy and Research. At the same time, schools went the route of zero-tolerance and, after the Columbine shooting in 1999, began adding adult hallway supervision, security cameras and sign-in sheets for visitors.
Oakland School District Police Chief Jeff Godown attributes the drop to a shift toward “restorative” forms of justice, where cops and counselors actually sit down with kids to help them resolve problems. He says that approach has helped Oakland achieve a dramatic decline in firearm violence over the past 15 years. The schools in Oakland have also stopped using metal detectors.
But Fordham law professor Nicholas Johnson says the new stat may not be telling the whole story. Kids, he says, are — shocker! — prone to lie about carrying weapons onto school campuses. Pinning down a single variable that explains the change is “nearly impossible,” Johnson says. Many parents would also surely protest that this revelation doesn’t necessarily mean schools are safer. Plenty of damage can be done with a right hook. And as we’ve seen too many times, school massacres often aren’t carried out by students. That has some advocating we should have more guns in schools. Yes, how times have changed.