Carrying weapons to school has become an acceptable risk for many students, both those who are fearful and those who intend to exploit others. Underlying the reasons students bring weapons to school may be the societal attitude that violence is an effective way to deal with problems. Television and movies depict violence as an effective problem-solving technique used by "good guys" and "bad guys" alike. Regardless of whether weapons are used in an act of aggression or as a defense against another's aggression, the reason weapons are brought to school often is related to the proliferation of gangs and drug activity on or near many school campuses.

A weapon is any instrument used with intent to inflict physical or mental harm on another person. Although school officials are concerned with all weapons, knives, guns, and explosive devices present the greatest threat to school safety. Weapons have been found and used on school campuses nationwide. Of the 3,370 high school students surveyed in the 1996 Twenty-Seventh Annual Survey of High Achievers, 29 percent reported that they knew someone who had brought a weapon to school, and 17 percent claimed it was not very difficult to obtain weapons at school.20 When looking at the prevalence of gun possession in particular, the 1995 School Crime Supplement to the National Crime Victimization Survey found that 12.7 percent of student respondents knew someone who brought a gun to school.21 According to the same study, the percentage of students reporting this increased as their age increased (see figure 1).

Figure1: Percent of Students Reporting the Presence of Gus at School, 1995

A periodic survey conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported that nearly 12 percent of the polled students in grades 9 through 12 carried a weapon on school property during the 30 days preceding the survey, and 7.3 percent were threatened or injured with a weapon on school property during the 12 months preceding the survey.22 In a study measuring school-associated violent deaths from 1992-1994, 77 percent of the deaths were due to firearms (see table 1).23

Table 1: Characteristics of School-Associated Violent Deaths

Startlingly, the cost of a death due to a single 22-cent, 9-millimeter bullet has been documented as including the following expenses: juvenile hall and jail costs for 1 year for four suspects, $85,710; a 2-week trial, $61,000; crime scene investigation, $13,438; medical treatment, $4,950; autopsy, $2,804; and State incarceration costs if the four suspects are convicted and serve 20 years, $1,796,625 -- for a grand total of $1,964,527.24 Extrapolated costs in terms of lives cut short and loved ones' grief, lost potential and productivity, and resulting damage to the Nation's psyche and society are inestimable, but nonetheless real.

Examples of strategies being implemented to prevent or intervene in the use of weapons in schools include:

Bullet Passage of State and local gun-free school zones legislation.
Bullet Passage of the Gun-Free Schools Act in 1994, which states that students be expelled if found with a weapon at school.
Bullet Public awareness campaigns, such as a Boston billboard nearly the length of a football field depicting the faces of children and other victims of gun violence, "the largest of 200 signs erected in the state to remind people of the costs of handgun violence."25
Bullet Public service gifts and donations, such as the 350 free In a Flash videos and teaching aids designed to show the "lethal and injurious effects of gun violence" donated by the nonprofit National Emergency Medicine Association to public, private, and special education schools in the Baltimore area.26
Bullet Hotlines, such as the one at George Washington High School in San Francisco,27 used for the anonymous reporting of weapons, drug use and possession, bullying, harassment, and other school-associated violence and crime.
Bullet Emphasis on "telling is not tattling" word-of-mouth campaigns to encourage students to break their informal code of silence and to report weapons and other instances of campus crime and violence that threaten safety.
Bullet Use of handheld or permanent weapons detectors.

Bullet Use of see-through book bags to prevent weapons concealment.
Bullet Removal or permanent locking of hall lockers to prevent weapons concealment and to discourage loitering in hallways.
Bullet Standardized incident-reporting forms for documenting all instances of school violence and crime, and requirement that schools report to police when a weapon is found in school.
Bullet Implementation of a school resource officer program, such as Community Policing Within Schools in the Robeson County School Outreach Program, which places sworn officers in targeted high schools.28
Bullet Partnerships with community agencies that enhance school resources and activities, such as coordinating campus security with local law enforcement agencies; orchestrating presentations from local fire and police departments regarding ways students and school personnel can assist in responding to school safety crises; and involving county mental health, child protective services, and juvenile probation agencies in identifying and monitoring potentially dangerous or law-violating students.

Combating Fear and Restoring Safety in Schools Juvenile Justice Bulletin   ·  April 1998