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Study: Adolescent school shooters often use guns stolen from family

November 27, 2023

Adolescent school shooters over the past several decades often used a gun stolen from a family member, according to a new study.

“Ultimately, this study supports policies encouraging secure firearm storage in households and limiting adolescents’ access to firearms through legislative measures, educational campaigns, or public health initiatives,” authors wrote in “Characteristics and Obtainment Methods of Firearms Used in Adolescent School Shootings,” (Klein BR, et al. JAMA Pediatr. Nov. 27, 2023).

Firearm injuries are the leading cause of death for children and teens in the U.S. Authors examined data from the American School Shooting Study on 253 shootings on a K-12 school campus from 1990 through 2016. Shootings included in the study were perpetrated by adolescents 19 years and younger and included at least one gunshot injury or death.

About 47% of the school shootings involved at least one fatality, and 3% were mass shootings in which at least four people were killed. Roughly 98% of the shooters were male, 58% were Black, 28% were white and 9% were Latino. The median age was 16 years.

About 86% of the firearms used in the school shootings were handguns, 9% were rifles and 6% were shotguns, according to the study. Roughly 37% of the firearms were considered low-powered, 40% were moderate-powered and 23% were high-powered. Authors noted the use of low- and moderate-powered firearms has declined in recent years, while use of high-powered firearms stayed stable.

About 42% of adolescent school shooters obtained the firearm from relatives, mostly through theft. About 30% procured a firearm from the street or an illegal market, 22% did so from friends, 5% obtained one from a stranger or victim and 2% got one through a licensed dealer.

Authors called for passage of child access prevention laws, steps to decrease illegal gun trafficking, increased screening in hospitals for firearm accessibility and a standardized national reporting system for school shootings.

“The study highlights the need for comprehensive strategies, including better firearm safety practices at home, legal measures, and community education to address the multifaceted issue of school shootings,” they wrote.

The AAP advises families not to keep guns in their home. Those who have them should keep them locked and unloaded with ammunition locked separately.

Keeping children safe from firearms has been a priority for the AAP. Efforts this year have included calling for more federal funding of research, holding a town hall with nearly 200 pediatricians and forming a new Firearm Injury Prevention Special Interest Group. In August, leaders from around the country chose two firearm-related resolutions to be among their top 10 priorities for the Academy.



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