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As Students Return to School, Everytown, NEA, AFT Sound the Alarm: High Risks of Gun Violence in Schools Demand Urgent Action


Increased Access to Unsecured Firearms, New Stresses, and Exacerbated Underlying Causes of Gun Violence Create ‘Perfect Storm’ 

Everytown’s School Safety Report Includes Proactive Solutions to Stop Gun Violence Before it Happens, Keep Guns Out of the Hands of Prospective Shooters 

NEW YORK – Everytown for Gun Safety, and Moms Demand Action and Students Demand Action, Everytown’s grassroots networks, released the following statements with the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers as students across the country begin to go back to school from a summer of increased gun violence to higher risks of targeted in-school gun violence and the trauma of active shooter drills.

“Throughout the pandemic, kids have been exposed to new stresses and elevated levels of gun violence, and now they’re heading back to school with more access to unsecured firearms,” said Shannon Watts, founder of Moms Demand Action. “There’s never been a more important time for schools to implement evidence-based policies – as opposed to ineffective, traumatizing active shooter drills – to prevent gun violence and to join the dozens of districts across the country sending lifesaving secure gun storage information home to millions of students and their families.”

“Schools should be the safest place in every community, and all students — no matter where they come from or where they live — should have access to a safe, welcoming, affirming learning environment,” said NEA President Becky Pringle. “As students head back to in-person instruction at the start of this school year, gun violence sadly continues to pose a grave threat to students, educators, and the entire public-school community. That’s why the 3-million-member National Education Association urges Congress to enact commonsense gun safety laws that will protect our most vulnerable in school communities throughout this country. Every year of inaction costs the lives of too many of our students. Congress must act now.”

“For far too long, the gun violence epidemic has plagued our schools and communities — coupled with the COVID crisis and ensuing trauma, the need for action on safety has never been more great. But the gun lobby has insisted on hardening our schools and turning them into armed fortresses, rather than taking action on gun safety,” said AFT President Randi Weingarten. “In the midst of these compounding crises, we have an opportunity to actually meet kids’ needs and truly keep them safe in school and beyond — from gun violence and COVID-19 — and must avoid the Hobson’s choice of locking down our schools, including closing windows that are much needed for ventilation during a respiratory virus pandemic because we can’t get guns off the street. As we return to full-time in-person learning, it’s even more important to invest in students’ social and emotional wellbeing, including trauma support for those impacted by gun violence. And it’s critical that we make sure our schools are safe and welcoming for all, which includes minding the effects of active shooter drills and other hardening protocols so every student and educator – regardless of skin color or ability – feels safe inside our nation’s schools.” 

“I’m heading back to school with a scar on my stomach, put there by a bullet from a ghost gun no one should have access to – let alone a kid,” said Mia Tretta, a 16-year-old Students Demand Action volunteer who was wounded in the 2019 shooting at Saugus High School in Santa Clarita, California, which was carried out with a ghost gun. “Keeping us safe in school means stopping gun violence before it happens, investing in mental health resources and crisis response programs, and making sure kids can’t access guns in the first place – not relying on shooter drills.”

“If we’re really going to address the impact that gun violence has on students, we need to expand our focus to include gun violence in communities and the trauma that it inflicts on students as well,” said Alé Ortiz, a volunteer leader with Students Demand Action in South Central Los Angeles. “Taking a broader perspective and acting on it will make schools a safer place where it’s easier for students to thrive.”

“In just the first few weeks that students have been back in classrooms, we’ve also seen the return of gun violence on school grounds. It’s unacceptable,” said Dr. Joseph Erardi, former Newtown, Connecticut superintendent of schools. “And it’s not like any of this is a big mystery – we know the risks, we know the danger, and we know the solutions. We just have to put those solutions in place, and soon, before more families, schools, and communities are devastated.”

Over the past few weeks, there have been at least seventeen different incidents of students bringing firearms into school in at least thirteen different states, including Texas, Florida, New Mexico, Mississippi, California, South Carolina, Arkansas, Nevada, Alabama, Kentucky, Michigan, and Tennessee. Last week, there were two shootings in high schools in North Carolina alone

Everytown, the National Education Association, and the American Federation of Teachers released a comprehensive school safety plan that recommends eight measures that schools can take to prevent mass shooting incidents and help end all gun violence in American schools. 

In September 2020, Everytown for Gun Safety Support Fund released the results of a first-of-its-kind study showing that active shooter drills in schools are associated with significant and lasting increases in depression, stress and anxiety, and fear of death among students, parents and teachers. The study, a partnership with Georgia Institute of Technology’s Social Dynamics and Wellbeing Lab, unveils strong evidence on the harmful impacts of active shooter drills. 

Using machine-learning technology to analyze nearly 28 million social media posts on Twitter and Reddit in the 90 days before and after local active shooter drills, Georgia Tech and Everytown researchers found:

  • Active shooter drills in schools are associated with increases in depression, as evidenced by a statistically significant increase in posts with words like therapy, cope, irritability, suicidal, and more;
  • Active shooter drills in schools are associated with increases in stress and anxiety, as evidenced by a statistically significant increase in posts with words like afraid, struggling, and nervous and more;
  • These trends were sustained at least 90 days following drills and spanned diverse school districts across the country and a wide variety of drill tactics.

Research shows that the best way to protect children and teens from accessing guns is to implement secure firearm storage practices. An estimated 54 percent of gun owners don’t lock all of their guns securely and at least 5.4 million children in 2021 live in a home with at least one unlocked and loaded firearm, up from 4.6 million in 2015. 

More than 1.5 million students across the country now live in a school district that requires schools to educate parents about the critical importance of secure firearm storage in keeping schools and students safe, thanks to the advocacy work of volunteers with Moms Demand Action and Students Demand Action. They’ve successfully urged school boards across the country to enact such notification policies, including school districts in Vermont, Texas, California, Arizona, Oregon and Colorado. This work is part of Everytown’s comprehensive approach to keeping schools safe from all forms of gun violence. Secure firearm storage in the home is one of the most effective tools to prevent gun violence in schools. According to research from the U.S. Secret Service, up to 80% of school shooters obtain their gun from their home or the home of relatives or friends. More information about the role that secure storage can play in preventing school shooting tragedies is available here. Moms Demand Action volunteers around the country have been working to promote secure storage through Everytown’s Be SMART program — a program designed to help parents and other adults normalize conversations about gun safety and take responsible actions that can prevent child gun deaths and injuries.

Additionally, the trauma of exposure to gun violence – an epidemic that disproportionately impacts Black communities – has physical, emotional, and social symptoms. Everytown released a report – Invisible Wounds: Gun Violence and Community Trauma among Black Americans – which details those symptoms. An estimated 3 million American children witness gun violence every year. The response to this exposure can impact their ability to learn and hinder their school performance. In Chicago, IL, one study found that exposure to a local homicide was associated with significant decreases in reading scores, awareness, and concentration for two to 30 days after the incidence. The study estimated that 15 percent of Black children in the sample spend a month each year functioning at low concentration, and that Black children in Chicago’s most violent neighborhoods spend at least a week out of every month functioning at lower concentration levels due to local homicides. In Syracuse, NY, test scores were 50 percent lower in elementary schools located in areas with high concentrations of gunshots than elementary schools in areas with a low concentration of gunshots. Elementary schools in high gunshot areas also had higher rates of standardized test failure.