Media Briefings

School shootings in the United States

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Dozens of school shootings take place in the United States each year—not only taking a tragic toll on those directly harmed, but also affecting students at schools everywhere that are preparing for these intensely traumatizing events. At SciLine’s next briefing, expert panelists presented the latest data on U.S. school shootings, including their geographic spread, community risk factors, youth access to firearms, and the recent uptick in school-shooting incidence. They also discussed strategies schools are using to reduce or prevent shootings, such as lockdown drills, and their effects on student mental health and learning. Panelists made brief presentations and then took questions on the record.

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RICK WEISS: Hello, everyone, and welcome to SciLine’s media briefing on school shootings in the United States. The topic that tragically keeps coming up in the news, and for which we wanted to share some relevant research findings. I’m SciLine’s director Rick Weiss, and for those not familiar with SciLine, we are a philanthropically-funded, editorially-independent free service for journalists and scientists. We’re based at the nonprofit American Association for the Advancement of Science in Washington, D.C. Our mission is to make it easier for reporters like you to get more scientifically validated evidence, and more scientists sources directly into your news stories. And that means not just news stories that are about science, but any kind of a story about anything going on in your local communities, where a dose of research findings, or science in some way, we’ll make that story stronger, which is just about any story we can think of. Among other things, we offer a free matching service, through which we will get you connected one-on-one to a scientist who can help you out with his story you’re working on; scientists, who have expertise in the area that you’re writing about. We also have something called Experts on Camera, where we are teeing up scientists every week who are knowledgeable about topics in the news, can do one-on-one video interviews with you. And you can sign up for 15-minute slots with these scientists. Just go to, our website, to check out the matching service, the Experts on Camera service, and other ways that we can help you in your reporting. A couple of quick logistical details before we get started. We have 3 experts today who are going to make short presentations of up to about 7 minutes each on various aspects of the topic of the day. While they’re speaking, you’re free to enter your questions into the Q&A box at the bottom of your Zoom screen there. Enter your name, please, and your news outlet, and your question. And if you want to direct that question to one of, one of the 3 speakers, go ahead and mention that as well. A full video of this briefing should be available on our website by the end of the day today. And a time-stamped transcript should be up by probably tomorrow or so. If you need something sooner than that for your use, just get in touch with us, again through the Q&A box and let us know, and we will get you some raw video ASAP after this briefing ends.

So, I’m not going to give full introductions for our speakers. Their bios are on the SciLine website. I just want to tell you that we will hear first from Dr. Sonali Rajan, who is an associate professor at Teachers College, Columbia University. And she is also the inaugural president of the newish Research Society for the Prevention of Firearm-Related Harms, who will briefly be summarizing some of the key data about U.S. school shootings in the context of gun violence more generally in this country, and what we know from research about strategies for reducing gun violence in schools. Next, we’re going to hear from Dr. Amanda Nickerson, who’s a professor and director of the Alberti Center for Bullying Abuse Prevention at the University of Buffalo. And she’s going to focus on school lockdown drills in particular, including what we know about their effectiveness for enhancing safety, and their effects on students’ mental health, including their perception of risk, and their levels of fear. And third, we’re going to hear from Dr. Marc Zimmerman, who is a professor and co-director of the Institute for Firearm Injury Prevention at the University of Michigan School of Public Health. And he’ll focus on some safety policies that schools are experimenting with, and what’s known, or in many cases really not known yet about the effectiveness of crisis intervention protocols that are in place at schools across the country. Okay, with that introductory material, let’s get started with the briefing. And over to you, Dr. Rajan.

School shootings and gun violence in the U.S.


SONALI RAJAN: Thank you so much, Rick. I’m going to just share my screen. OK, everyone can see that OK? Great. So, thank you so much for the opportunity to be here with you all today, and to share just very briefly about some of the work that I’m doing, along with many of my colleagues. I am here at Columbia University. And, again, just, we’ll delve right in. So, just to give us a brief overview as to the crisis of gun violence in the U.S. Each year, approximately 100,000 Americans are injured every—with a firearm. Over 17,000 of those, or so, our children ages zero to 18. More than 40,000 of these individuals die as a result of their firearm-related injuries. And actually, that number has gone up quite a bit over the last two years. So, we’re really hovering around that 45,000 mark, which is just a horrific tragedy. 2021 is on record—the deadliest year on record for gun violence. But gun violence is now the leading cause of death among children and teens in the U.S. And importantly, and I’ll talk about this in a couple of slides, these statistics that I’m talking about here really don’t reflect the broader spectrum of gun violence experiences and exposure; witnessing gunfire, surviving a shooting, hearing gunshots.

So, I’ll talk in a bit about what that means for children in particular. I’m also going to highlight some of the racial disparities that we see in the context of gun violence experiences here in the U.S. Now, specifically, in schools, gun violence, again, also persists. There are data from the Washington Post that have estimated that more than 357,000 children have experienced gun violence, specifically in K-12 schools, since the Columbine shooting in 1999. So, if we think about sort of the magnitude of this public health crisis, it is just so vast and so enormous. And I should note, there are many different kinds of gun violence; mass shootings, unintentional shooting, suicide. And also, as I mentioned earlier, just different forms of exposure. So, the true scope of this crisis is really difficult to quantify, and by extension, both prevent and also intervene upon. So, that aspect of this field is something that we are wrestling with as scientists in this space. It’s worth noting that there’s been a noticeable uptick, specifically in school gun violence since 2015. And that—there was an uptick again in 2021, following school building closures that took place during the initial month of COVID. And this matters for all sorts of reasons, but I think it’s also worth underscoring that here in the US alone, there are nearly 100,000 public schools serving, nationally serving an estimated 51 million children. So, when we talk about the scope of what it is we are trying to prevent, the, again, the population here that we really care about is so, it’s so important. Very briefly, I could spend months—hours and hours talking about this aspect of my work.

But I’m just gonna give a brief overview into the concept of adverse childhood experiences. We refer to that as ACEs for short. These are stressful or traumatic events that impact the healthy development of kids all the way through adolescence and into adulthood, really experiences that disrupt a child’s sense of safety and stability. Research that my colleagues and I have done have highlighted the ways in which exposure to gun violence during childhood is an ACE. And we care about ACEs, and preventing them, and intervening on them. Because the scientific literature has shown very, very clearly that exposure to ACEs, even one ACE, or multiple ACEs is tied directly to many, many poor short, short and long-term health outcomes. So, it’s really critical that we think about the prevention of ACEs in the context of this work. We’ve also, again, talked through and done some work on the racial disparities on some of these ACEs. This is the work I’ve done with Dr. Zimmerman, and some of our colleagues really showing very clearly that Black children disproportionately experience gun violence in their neighborhoods far, far, far more likely than their white peers. And that these, these disparities have only increased following the onset of COVID. And I’m happy to talk more about that during the Q&A.

So, you’re probably wondering, well, what does this all have to do with school? So, I just sort of orient us very briefly to this model here, the whole school, whole community, whole child model, which essentially articulates that what happens in the community, and through experiences, such as ACEs naturally experiences what a child then does, and goes through during the school day. So, when we think about the prevention of gun violence, and of school gun violence, in particular, we need to think about what are we doing within policies, within our communities, and within our schools to really ensure that children are not just in spaces that are free from violence, but that they’re also able to thrive. So, the work that my colleagues have done is really trying to help shift our understanding of what prevention looks like away from a framework that relies on reactive strategies, and really thinks about what multifaceted strategic strategies we can use it that are more upstream, and that can disrupt the possibility of gun violence well before a shooting is even a credible threat to a school community. So, this involves really investing in real basic community infrastructures, green space, and affordable housing, and street lighting, and also thinking about schools and spaces where we should really be thinking about prevention in a much more concerted manner. And how all of that comes together to inform school shooting prevention more broadly. So, I can give some specifics, again, more during the Q&A. But in my last couple of minutes with you, I did want to highlight a couple of specific pieces of work that I think would be, might be of interest.

So, one piece I mentioned policy being an important component of this. So, work that my colleagues and I did about a year or so, a year and a half or so ago, showed that the association of—that states with more permissive gun laws, so more permissive state firearm laws, and states that also had higher rates of gun ownership, were significantly more likely to experience active school shootings in K-12 schools. And so just from a big picture, high-level policy piece, we know in the context of school shootings, that policies just generally matter. Right? So, the more permissive the state gun laws are, the more likely we are to see and experience K-12 school shootings. I’m not going to go too much into this because I know Dr. Nickerson is going to, and Dr. Zimmerman are both going to talk about this in their piece. But I will also just end by saying, right now, schools are spending a lot of their time on reactive strategies to gun violence, some of which have evidence, and you’ll hear about those in a little bit. But many of which do not. Arming teachers, for example, or “Stop the Bleed” trainings, or clear backpack policies, just lots and lots of school safety strategies, and policies, and tactics that really have no evidence guiding their effectiveness.

And so there are, in the spirit of some of these limited and significant evidence gaps, I just going to highlight a study that I’m currently co-leading with one of my colleagues here at Columbia, where we’re really trying to understand the effectiveness of these types of school safety strategies, specifically on intentional school gun violence. So, maybe you’ll have me back in a year, and I can share more about what we’ve learned from that. So, how do we move forward? From my vantage point, as someone who really does school health work, and is thinking about the connections between ACEs and communities, and all of that, is we need to shift the emphasis away from a primary reliance on strategies that are intended to react to a school shooting in the moment of a violent act, and broaden the spectrum of what currently constitutes school gun violence prevention. And I think in doing this, would allow us the opportunity to reimagine the prevention of school gun violence, actually as an opportunity to really invest in schools, and in its surrounding communities, and by extension, its kids. So, here’s, I know you have my info, but just sharing a few pieces of contact information here. And happy to answer questions later. Fantastic.


RICK WEISS: Thank you. And a reminder to reporters, all the slides will be available soon after the briefing for you to look at more closely. That’s a great introduction, I think emphasizing for one thing, the daunting scale of the problem, but also so important, I think for reporters covering this to look at this issue, not through that narrow lens, as you said, of this is just something in the school, but this is a small piece of a much bigger phenomenon going on in the community. And it’s, in that way, a perfect story for local reporters to focus on what is the larger context, and within which all this violence is going on. Great, a great reminder event. Thanks. And over to you next Dr. Nickerson.

How lockdown drills work


AMANDA NICKERSON: Thank you so much. I’m really honored to be here. So, I’m going to be speaking about lockdown drills, which is one small piece of the larger picture of possible prevention and preparedness in schools, and also the effects of exposure to violence on youth. So, first, how do lockdown drills work? The work that my colleague Dr. Jaclyn Schildkraut and I have been working on is using the standard response protocol from the “I Love U Guys” Foundation, which is considered a best practice model. And the steps are quite simple, in that it is locked down, which means locking of the classroom doors, turning out the lights and getting everyone out of sight from the hallway corridor, and making sure that they are quiet. And always announcing, “This as a drill.” So, this may be in contrast to some of the protocols that have made national news, where there are sensorial techniques, fake blood, actors, kids throwing things at possible intruders. This is one of a set of standard strategies, including evacuation and others, that schools can use in the event that there is any type of threat including a shooter in a school. So, our work on these lockdowns has been done primarily with Syracuse City School District in New York, a large school district, about 30,000—I’m sorry, about 20,000 students, 30 schools. The large majority—about 80%—are from underrepresented minoritized groups and students of low socioeconomic status.

So, we have been looking, over time, at the effects of these drills, really wanting to know how—are they effective? How are they affecting students and staff? And what our work has found is that engaging in lockdowns, drills, and training, according to this protocol that I’ve just mentioned, students and staff report feeling more prepared for an emergency. They’ve also been able to achieve skill mastery with training and practice. And that is actually checked in real-time by going through every school classroom door and checking, is the door locked, and are they not responding to the knock? Are they out of sight, and can we not hear them? And are the lights out? We’ve also found that students report lowered fear of harm, and also lower perceived risk. Although, I will note that in a couple of the studies, we’ve seen some lowered perceptions of safety and increased avoidance.

We have some work that’s currently under review that’s looking at this within the context of protection motivation theory, which is a theory that shows that there is some need to feel a certain sense of vulnerability in order to engage in protective-type strategies for a wide variety of health concerns. Somewhat surprising, and a big passion and interest of mine has been in the 2 studies that I’ve done that’s looked explicitly at anxiety. One was done several years ago, where we compared lockdown drills to a control condition, and found that there were no differences between those two groups in terms of anxiety. And our more recent work in another smaller district has found that high school students actually reported reduced anxiety after the drills, as compared as compared to baseline or the two weeks preceding the drills. And perhaps more importantly, our collaborative work with Emily Greene-Colozzi has found that the implementation of lockdown procedures has actually saved lives in real events. And this is done by coding of actual mass shootings, and mass shootings in schools, where lockdowns were used. It reduced fatalities by 63%. Finally, the impact of youth exposure to violence, and this exposure to violence could be being a direct victim, also witnessing it, and this could be violence in the home, school or community. But we definitely see higher post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms in these youth, as well as anxiety and depressive symptoms, aggressive and delinquent behavior. We also see that this is a cyclical pattern, so those that are exposed to this violence, are more likely to engage in aggressive behavior, which then leads them to become exposed to more forms of violence, contributes to hyper arousal, or this anxiety and PTSD symptomatology, where we’re worried about what may be in our environment, we’re scanning our environment more, and leads to weapon carrying, mostly because of fear or perceived need for protection.

As Sonali already mentioned, the burden falls disproportionately on our youth of color, particularly our Black young men in urban communities. And I think very important to note, although it’s not a focus of what I’m talking about today, we really want to look at those protective and promotive factors that are both at the individual level. So, the strengths and skills that our youth come with, as well as their environments, the support that they receive from family and peers, their school connection and attachments, as well as school prevention programming. And then those restrictions on guns, again, as Sonali mentioned, are effective in reducing these forms of violence and exposure to violence. I look forward to continued discussion. These resources will be posted on the web. Many of them are the empirical studies that I discussed, as well as the document that Sonali and I worked on together on the effects of firearm violence in children. Thank you so much.


RICK WEISS: Thanks, Dr. Nickerson. Very interesting, especially as a graduate myself of the Syracuse Public School System, where our drills were about a nuclear bomb going off. Things have changed, and not changed. And really interesting, actually, to hear some of these data about the, what looks like some potential efficacy for some of these practices. I hope we can get into the Q&A, how many schools are doing it right this way, and how many maybe are using other methods that are less, looking less good. But for now, over to you, Dr. Zimmerman.


SONALI RAJAN: Oh, Marc, you’re muted.

The role of evidence-based research in preventing school violence


MARC ZIMMERMAN: I’m on mute. I was saying, just saying thank you for inviting me. Delighted to be here, and be part of this panel. So, I’ll just go right into it, so we can get to the Q&A’s. I’m just going to talk a little bit about the work that we’re doing in the National Center for School Safety, which is funded by the Department of Justice Bureau of Justice Assistance. And one of the things that underlies what we, the way we think about this work is that we need to think about school violence in more ecological terms. It was the message that Sonali gave earlier. And that is that what happens in a school building is just one piece of the picture.

And so we have to think about individuals and the social interactions with them, within that school, and then also in the community. Also, the exposures that you’ve just heard about, exposures in communities are all relevant to what kids bring back into the school. There’s also the travel between school and home. Many kids walk to school, for example, and then kind of policies, both the federal, state, local district policies, even school policies, and they all make a difference. I also want to just say that when we—the way we conceptualize school violence is that it’s not just firearms, and it’s not just physical violence. Amanda’s work in bullying prevention that is both psychological and physical. Bullying is an important piece of all this. The other thing that I often will say, and that is that that is that firearm violence in schools, weapon carriage or guns in schools, is really the tip of the iceberg. And there’s all these underlying factors that happen, that lead to somebody bringing in a knife, or a weapon, or a gun to school, whether that’s for protection, or for getting even, or for whatever reason. And I we usually say here in the National Center, that if you—a lot of the strategies that are designed to capture, and I’m going to talk about these in a minute, capture those guns before they come into the school, you’ve already lost. Because there’s a—rarely does somebody wake up in the morning decide to bring a gun to school, there’s usually precipitating events. And so that’s really an important point to think about in terms of school violence.

So, context matters, policies at this state, school district, local policies. Over 20 states require anonymous reporting systems, about 20 also require resource officers. Plan school safety teams. Door locks could be happening at the individual level schools. They might need to develop things that build programs unique to their community, develop relationships with community mental health. So, there’s all sorts of policies that matter. The school capacity, one of the things we’re learning about, about this work is that the schools don’t always have the capacity to actually be safety or violence prevention. And this refers to financial and personnel resources. Most educators are not really trained to know about early signs of distress or what school safety teams do, or how an anonymous reporting system works. And then community engagement is the idea that schools don’t work in isolation, and connecting to law enforcement. If there is a shooting, first responders, law enforcement, how do you communicate? What happens during that event? So, there’s all sorts of things. And then referrals to community mental health. And there’s all sorts of ways that communities, and engaging in communities. That context matters.

Then we’ve sort of framed the strategies in 3 different ways: social environment, attentive environment, and physical environment. And the social environment is the idea of creating a context of support, norms and values of respect and caring, reducing isolation, and engagement of everybody in the school, not just the students. And so factors like school climate, social-emotional learning, restorative practices, mentorship programs, anti-bullying programs, and after school programs. I’m going to talk about all of those in a minute. Attentive environment are the early detections, oops, are the early detection, anonymous supporting systems, threat assessments, mental health, first aid. And so it’s really early detection. And then physical environment is the deterrence and security that you heard about; metal detectors, cameras, panic buttons, door locks, and also clear backpacks, those kind of things. And so underlying factors that, we have to think about all of these strategies in monitoring unconscious bias. Thinking about trauma-informed care. We heard about the sequelae, the mental health sequelae of exposure. Or even if it’s a school next door, in the next town over, how does that—how do kids respond to those kinds of situations there? They have some difficulty with attention span, for example, or they may not sleep as well. And so they’re a little more cranky in school. And those create all sorts of problems.

So, the idea of trauma-informed care. Multisector safety teams is the idea that you have different groups of people from different sectors, like law enforcement, mental health, teachers, maybe even parents on school safety teams, to not only develop policies in that school, but also potentially to respond to detection of early signs. And then the whole idea of parent and student engagement is key in the process as well. So, the clear and consistent evidence is this idea of school climate, small social-emotional learning, and anti-bullying programs, there’s lots of evidence that these things help reduce violence, and help kids feel more safe in their schools. This same [phonetic] youth foundation, for example, has say hello, know the signs, and student clubs. We’ve did a study where an anonymous reporting system that has that training involved is more effective than not. Social-emotional learning are things—teaching kids how to handle conflict, work in teams, problem-solving skills. Restorative practices are the ideas where you encourage offender accountability in non-confrontational ways. So, instead of just punishing the person, you bring the offended and the offender together, and you find a way to negotiate solutions to the problem. Non-exclusionary discipline is alternatives to dismissing students from school. Threat assessment has lots of evidence around that. There’s some concerns that they are inequitably-distributed, and some kids are, with some characteristics, have one avenue, and some kids with another 1 who have similar threats go into a different area. One: some are arrested. Some are sent to mental health services. So, we have to pay attention to those kinds of issues for sure.

Developing evidence. I think you heard Amanda talking about active shooter training, lockdown drills. A colleague just sent me an email, literally an hour ago, basically saying that teachers are not really involved in lockdown drills, and they’re not trained in any of this activity as well. So, there is evidence, obviously, that Amanda talked about, that they can be effective, but it depends how they’re done. These reporting systems, we, again, 21 states require them, but there’s not a lot of evidence that how they’re operated. And we’re currently working on some project, some analysis of data from North Carolina to look at how those kind of work. Door locks, there’s obviously some evidence, to school resource officers. And I can talk a little bit more about ERPOs. I’m aware of them already over time. Limited or very mixed evidence is video cameras, metal detectors. Just a comment about metal detectors. Of course, it makes sense that if you have metal detector, you’re going to prevent somebody from carrying a gun into the school. But a) you’ve already lost, if a kid feels like they need to bring a gun to school, you’ve already sort of have a situation at school where that became an issue. But secondly, teachers and school personnel are not typically trained to be metal detectors. Just think about when you go to the airport, and you walk through, the TSA, and how many people are there? And what kind of equipment is there for carrying that—now—carrying that out. Now, put that in perspective of two minutes before the bell rings, and all the kids running into school before the bell rings, and you have one or two metal detectors. And what’s staffing there. So, just to kind of think about that. And then also the Stop the Bleeding. Arming teachers. There is no evidence that that necessarily works. I’ve talked to law enforcement people, and they’ve thought—was mostly against it. They basically say you never know who the good guy or the bad guy is. And if—and bullets don’t have a mind, so they ricochet off things. And so having more bullets flying is not necessarily the best approach, especially if they’re not trained professionals.

And then lastly, the technology aided identification of monitoring. We don’t have much data there. So, I just want to say thank you. The two websites are—you can get way more information about all I just talked about that National Cyber School Safety, NCSS. And I’m going to do another plug that that Sonali mentioned, and that is the National Research Conference in Chicago. If any of you are in Chicago or in the area, this is going to be November 1, 2, and 3. And you can go there to learn more about it. And with that, I will stop. Thank you.


What is being done well in press coverage of these issues, and where is there room for improvement?


RICK WEISS: That is gonna be a very interesting conference, I’m sure. Thank you, Dr. Zimmerman, for a lot of information there. I want to remind reporters that if you have some questions, you can click on that Q&A icon at the bottom of your screen, and put them in there. And while those start to gather, I want to ask the first question to each of our panelists today, as we traditionally do in these media briefings. And that question is simply: what can you say to reporters who are covering this topic, and who had been covering this topic, describe something that you’ve seen in your experience as a news consumer, not so much as an expert, as a news consumer that you think are being done well by reporters as they cover school violence and school shootings, and/or something that you think reporters could do better, and maybe improve on? And I’ll go through in the same order and start with you, Sonali.


SONALI RAJAN: Great question. Thank you. So, I will say, I mean, I’ve had really wonderful opportunities to connect with many members of the media at the local and national levels, and have largely found it to be a very positive, thoughtful experience. I really just want to underscore how positive my experience has been in that way. There are reporters who are, I know, who are specifically studying this issue, and who have given a lot of voice to, for example, survivors of shootings, I’m thinking about John Woodrow Cox at the Washington Post, who really reports exclusively, in some ways, on this area, and has spoke—spoken a lot about the burden of trauma that children are carrying as a result of the persistence of this kind of violence. So, that just, that kind of writing, that kind of sort of storytelling, I think is so critical to shaping the public discourse has been, while heartbreaking to read, I think it’s been so key to us collectively understanding the scope of this issue. It’s hard, I don’t know that I would say there’s something that you could do, that people can do better or different, or whatever. But I think the one thing that—this isn’t even really a criticism. I think it’s just more a reflection of how the field is evolving, which is that for a long, long time, I think we tended to collectively focus on like, like when you ask someone, what is the solution to gun violence, they maybe think of a specific policy, maybe something related to law enforcement. And I just think that that narrative has to be expanded and flipped a little bit, like the, as you’ve heard today, from all three of us, what constitutes school gun violence prevention is so much bigger than like one or two sets of policies. And I just think that part of our work is to try and get investments, right, and input, and shifts in budget and really kind of thinking about how do we get investments and solutions that we know work. And the range of solutions that we do know work on this issue is so much bigger than often gets discussed. So, I think that’s just where I would love to see the public discourse evolve toward, and the media piece is so critical to that happening. So, I don’t that make sense what I’m describing, but that’s what I would say.


RICK WEISS: Total sense. Thank you. Amanda?


AMANDA NICKERSON: Yeah, I would say similarly to what Sonali said, I’ve had a lot of really great interactions with media, where I feel that they are true journalists that want to understand issues, and report them clearly and accurately from all perspectives. So, I would say that that is so important, I find it’s easier quote, unquote, when I do it, these interviews when there hasn’t been an event. I think after a major event, it feels just like we—it feels very reactive and rushed. And the questions I get are things like, “How could this happen?” And, and I, so I would—and I know that that’s the job of news. Right? That everybody wants to hear and see about these big events, but to the extent that it can be situated within the larger context of what we know and what we can do, instead of arising more panic, and conflict, and blame, and a rush to do something. So, more of this is about how the public consumes media than I think what media themselves are doing. We do know, just like with suicide reporting guidelines, and the concern about contagion, then not glorifying, either perpetrators of school violence. So, spending more of the focus on, on the victims, on what we can do. And I had, I had mentioned in preparation for this, although I don’t think this link can go to, I think it’s just I don’t think it’s going to everyone, but there is an interdisciplinary group of us that that came up with an 8-point plan for how to reduce gun violence, that really tries to take it from universal, as well as, thank you, as well as targeted levels and looks at many of the things that we’ve been talking about. So, I think getting sort of those things out into the hands of the public so that we can move towards solutions and action are really important.


RICK WEISS: Great, thank you. And Marc?


MARC ZIMMERMAN: What they said, I was actually gonna say what Amanda just said, in terms of doing better. Every interview I’ve ever done, I always say, you know what would be really helpful is to have this conversation before the next shooting, and doing a really in depth story, so that people could learn about what they can do in their schools, what’s, what parents can expect, or ask of their educators, and ask of their school districts, and ask them their policymakers in their state. So, I really want to underline what Amanda said about that. And then yeah, the stories that are done, and I think they represent me, certainly well, and I think they tell the story really well. So, I would say that’s really important. The other thing I would just say is, and again, Sonali said this also, is not focusing on one strategy, that it takes more than one strategy to make a difference. One thing I didn’t say is, in those three social early detection, and a social, attentive, and physical environment, the idea is to do something in each one of those and as many things in each one of those areas, so that you cover the gamut. And I think reporting in those ways is really important.

How does this year’s data on school shootings compare to previous years?


RICK WEISS: Great. OK. We’re gonna open it up to questions from reporters here. And I’ll start with this one from Adi Guajardo from Scripps News Service, who writes that school shootings happen every year. How does this year compared to past years so far? I don’t know if that means this fall’s school year, which is still early, or this, maybe this year, this calendar year. Does anyone have any take on the stats so far?


MARC ZIMMERMAN: I just was reading an article, just real quickly, I don’t know about the school shootings itself. But the number of guns and weapons that have been found, I think it was a reporter in Washington Post, it might have been the person that you know who did it, has skyrocketed. So, the potential is certainly there. I don’t know about the number of school shootings, in the last decade compared the decade before, they’ve more than doubled. But do you guys know?


SONALI RAJAN: So, you the funny thing a little bit here is, when we’re collecting data, sometimes there’s a lag right between like when data are available and all of that. But as part of our current NIH study that I’m—that I mentioned in my talk, we are collecting, we are documenting every intentional school shooting that meets sort of our specific criteria, but intentional forms of gunfire on school grounds and during school hours. And that number is, yeah, it’s high. I would say this year so far seems on track with what last year looks like. But last year wasn’t great. So, I’m trying to, I don’t have the date off the top of my head, but the trends are, at the very least seem to be leveling—seem to be at a—they’re not going down. Maybe that’s what I want to say. The number of shootings aren’t going down.

What does research show about placing law enforcement officers on school campuses?


RICK WEISS: Understood. Great. OK, question here from Kerry Fehr-Snyder from KJZZ Public Radio in Phoenix. What are your thoughts about placing off duty officers on school campuses? Are there clear data on that, or at least some hints?


MARC ZIMMERMAN: There are, I think, about 15 to 20 states require that. Other states have now, like, I think Minnesota said no more. What we do in the National Center is we have some training around SROs, and then we also refer people to the society, the NASRO, The National Association for School Resource Officers. And one of the things, we had a former FBI agent help us develop training videos for SROs. That’s what an SRO is, a school resource officer, which is law enforcement. In some schools in the United States, like the Miami School District, they have their own police department. The school system has its own police department, as does Atlanta. So, the key that I’ve learned, not being law enforcement myself, is they need to be trained appropriately, being a police officer in the streets is very different than being a police officer in the schools, on multiple levels, in terms of what their role is, and what roles they can play, in terms of understanding development, and what development means. And like, their brains are not fully-developed. So, if they’re doing stuff that seems crazy, that’s because they’re not, they’re not thinking. Right? So, I think there’s all sorts of training that needs to go around so that it doesn’t become a school-to-prison pipeline. They’re not there to arrest kids. They’re there to be a resource for kids. That’s why the term “school resource officers”. When it’s a police officer, in the community that’s just assigned this month to the school, without any of that training, could potentially create some of that school-to-prison pipeline kind of issues. The other thing is has to be really paid attention to is the unconscious bias or the intentional bias that may occur, resulting from that. So, if you go to our website, there’s lots of resources around school resource officers about this very topic.


RICK WEISS: Great. Anything to add there, Amanda or Sonali?


AMANDA NICKERSON: I feel like I just nodded vigorously to everything that was said. So, yeah, the research is not particularly positive about the presence of law enforcement and school resource officers, a lot of it’s correlational. But the presence is associated with more arrests, more disciplinary actions, even though they’re not supposed to be involved in, in school discipline. But when we do look at their roles, so NASRO, The National Association for School Resource Officers advocates for the triad model, where they’re public safety educators, mentors, as well as law enforcement officers. So, the research is more positive, it when they have a more well-rounded role. But so much of that, so the question was, “What do you think about placing them on school campuses?” To me, no, let’s not just place them. But as Marc said, let’s have them a meaningful part of our school community that are trained, that are working towards the same goal, that are part of our threat assessment teams, that are part of our education and training, that are mentors to students who may not have other people in the school who look like them. And many school resource officers are from diverse backgrounds. So, but if we look purely at the research, I think that that schools are not utilizing them appropriately. And they’re also not always school resource officers. We sometimes blend in the research, security officers, and other roles, and people that may not have that same training and role.

How do smaller-scale incidences of gun violence in schools affect children, compared to mass shootings?


RICK WEISS: OK. That’s very helpful. A question here from Silas Allen from the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. We had a case in which a school cafeteria worker was shot and killed in a school parking lot before the school day began. How do smaller-scale events like that outside the school here affect kids compared to, say, the mass shooting at Uvalde? Sonali?


SONALI RAJAN: I can speak briefly to this. So, this is where I will say the recent uptick in federal funding for gun violence research is so helpful because we’re able to start asking and answering these questions with real scientific rigor. But what we are learning is that exposure to gun violence, in these forms, even in this form of the cafeteria worker, it is, it does constitute a potentially-adverse childhood experience. And I mentioned that term earlier, ACEs, because what happens is when a child experiences an ACE, and there’s no intervention, no meaningful support, no thoughtful intervention in the aftermath of that experience, that ACE literally impacts a child’s brain and their neurodevelopment, and then it leads to the adoption of they’re higher risk—they’re at they’re in much higher risk then for adopting high risk behaviors, for having, like I mentioned, many short and long-term poor health outcomes, impacting their learning and everything in between. So, we know it does impact children. It impacts their developing brain. We know it impacts their stability, their sense of stability and safety, which has numerous implications for health, for learning, for their ability to be, and grow, and develop, right, in a healthy manner. I hesitate to quantify specifically what a mass shooting might—impact might look like on children versus these types of exposures, simply because we don’t know. But it’s safe to say that all of these types of experiences need to be prevented, and they’re not always covered. Right? And so this is where it’s really important. We think about who is getting the support services in the aftermath. It cannot just be—it should not only be the children who experienced in survive mass shootings, it should be—we should be thinking about that support in a, in a broader way. So, I’ll pause there, but hopefully that makes sense the way I said it.

How can schools treat all types of staff as equally important in a lockdown?


RICK WEISS: Great. Question here from freelance reporter, Laurie Wiegler. How can schools treat all staff as equally important in a lockdown, i.e., janitors, teachers, substitute teachers?


AMANDA NICKERSON: That’s a great question. And I see earlier in there, she was saying that as a sub, she didn’t get training and preparation. And that’s, it does start with the training. In the, in the drills that we did, my colleague, Dr. Schildkraut, was doing training with everyone: the students, the staff, the cafeteria workers, everybody had to be trained. Subs are more challenging. I’m not gonna—I’m not gonna lie. There should be a quick glance protocol in classrooms about these different emergency procedures. Again, the standard response protocol has graphical images and the steps that you should follow, subs should also get a partner, teacher in an ideal world, where they can have some of that support. But the training absolutely has to include everybody, and then the drills themselves do as well. Some of our cafeteria workers and janitors, and others, actually have the more challenging jobs, because finding the places to go and to get behind a locked door, when you’re in a more open space, are really critical. So, just like when we do bullying, prevention training, just like when we do school climate and other things, we’re always advocating to get all of these groups in the training because they are so very valuable in in our pursuits for safety. Of course, those who have worked in schools know that, oftentimes, there’s a lot of challenges with that, different contracts, and bargaining units, and transportation companies, and who’s paying for what. So, it’s not only a matter of not wanting people. There are some fairly significant challenges. But I think that schools that use that, take that as a priority really try to include all.

Do you have any guidance on how best to approach legislative coverage when it comes to school safety?


RICK WEISS: That’s actually, your last point, very interesting. And as a reporter, I’d be very interested to pull that thread about how the bureaucracy of all the pieces that go together to make a school might interfere with smooth, seamless incorporation of everyone who needs to be involved here. A question from Rachel Wegner from the Tennessean in Nashville: Do you have any guidance on how best to approach legislative coverage when it comes to school safety? Some of you have mentioned policy as part of the puzzle here.


MARC ZIMMERMAN: I don’t know about the coverage. But again, I think the messages would be to as legislation is being developed, asking questions about how comprehensive is it? And are they thinking about some of the things we talked about today? Now, just tailing on to what a Sonali was saying. Mass shootings account for only about 1% of all the deaths from firearms that Sonali presented earlier today. 1%. And of that 1%, only about—well, actually less than 10% are school shootings. But a mass shooting is I don’t find is— sometimes it’s three, sometimes it’s four, people hurt or killed, other than the shooter, in that situation. But there’s lots of instances in schools where it’s one-off. Somebody comes in and shoots a person because they insulted their mother or whatever. And those don’t make it to the, beyond the local news or the example of the of the cafeteria worker. So, I think helping make policymakers aware of these by asking questions. Are you aware of how would this be built into? What kind of legislation you’re going to do? So, rather than, I don’t know how journalists operate, in terms, I can give advice on what they would do, but maybe asking those kinds of questions, at least to get the policymaker to say, oh, never thought of that, maybe it’ll get them to go talk to their staff. And they would, say maybe we need to have something more comprehensive than just the one thing that we were talking about.

What does research show about anxiety levels in school-age children rafter a lockdown drill?


RICK WEISS: I think that’s a great, great point. Great advice. Thanks. A question here, again, this one might be for you, Amanda, but it talks about, you mentioned earlier, that anxiety was found to be down, in some groups at least. after drills. Is there anything more specific you can say on if they had less anxiety surrounding the drill itself, or feeling more safe in school, more generally, or their ability to survive a gun violence event, or something else?


AMANDA NICKERSON: Sure. So, the way we measured anxiety was the State-Trait Anxiety Inventory. It’s a pretty commonly used one. So, we were actually looking at state anxiety, the idea that this is something that can change in different contexts, in different circumstances, as opposed to a more ongoing issue for someone. So, the questions about anxiety were I’m tense. I feel upset. I’m worried. And then there are ones that represent not feeling anxiety, like I feel calm. I’m relaxed. I’m content. So, it was really much more general. And that’s where we saw the changes in the decrease in that anxiety, and then the increase in the sort of non-anxiety or wellness. Now, our separate studies, where we looked at perceived safety, that had more to do like, how safe do you feel in school? How safe do you feel in different areas of school? And then perceived risk was about how afraid Are you that there’s going to be a shooting and things like that, but the anxiety itself is more general.

Are there ways to work directly with gunowners to help prevent or reduce school shootings?


RICK WEISS: Okay. Here’s an interesting question from Carol Cruzan, who is a freelance reporter in Eugene. In suicide prevention, public health professionals have found more success working with gun owners. Does the same apply for school and youth gun violence or are gun rights, Second Amendment, arguments at odds inherently with solutions to people shooting other people? In other words, to what extent does it have to do with guns themselves? Are there ways to do this? While being sensitive to those concerns?


MARC ZIMMERMAN: Go ahead, Somali. I know we have very similar points of view on this. And I mean, go ahead.


SONALI RAJAN: I’ll share a couple of quick thoughts, and then Marc can fill in what I’ve missed. I mean, the short answer to that is, yes, absolutely. We should be working with gunowners on how to keep all of our community safe, whether in school or out of school. So, that is like, there’s a, that is a, there’s a no brainer. And there’s lots of really wonderful, rigorous research that has shown the benefit of those partnerships. We live in a country with 400, more than 400 million firearms that are in circulation, so we have to figure out how to coexist safely with them. There’s just a few, like one easy example is school nurses who are working on firearm education with families who are firearm owners, or normalizing firearm safety practices when kids and their parents go visit their pediatricians for their annual well visits. Right? So, how are we thinking about firearm safety and storage as part and parcel of this issue? It’s so, so critical. I’m sure I missed things there, Marc. But I mean, that would be my answer to that.


MARC ZIMMERMAN: Yeah, I agree. Absolutely, we have we have these conversations. At the Institute for Firearm Injury Prevention here at the university, we have community boards that includes veterans and includes people who are—we call them “gun enthusiasts”. In surveys, 90% of people support doing something about gun safety. The problem is, and that’s gunowners as well. Gunowners is a slightly less. It’s high 80s when they just look a gunowners. So, there’s a lot of support for this idea. Most gunowners—I want to say let me flip the narrative here for a minute. There’s 40,000 deaths plus. There’s 400,000 guns. That’s, what, 1.1%. I mean, most gunowners are responsible. And so we can’t—if we just go down the road of vilifying one group or the other, and it’s showing that you have this point of view or that point of view. We’re not going to prevent those 40,000 deaths and 100,000 injuries. And we can do better than this. We did it with cars. I don’t know, some of you, I don’t know how old anybody is here, but I was alive when seatbelts first started happening in cars. And how people hated it, and they would lock it behind them. And it was like na-na, na-na, na-na. And today, 40 plus years later, 50 years later, not only have we reduced number of car deaths, but almost nobody gets in a car anymore without a seatbelt. And I believe in my heart of hearts that we can get there, too, with guns, with our firearms, and we can make them safer. And we can have policies and efforts without taking away people’s rights to own guns. Going down that path, it just creates tension, and is not going to save lives. And we were able to do it with cars. And there’s more cars driving faster than there were 50 years ago, and there’s fewer deaths. In 2017, more people died of a firearm than a car.

And that number, that distinction, that disparity has grown over time. So, ever, ever since 2017, more people are dying by firearms than cars. So, yes, we have to work together to do this. And we’re really committed to making it work. And there are, there are people. One of the other issues is we haven’t been able to do research on this in the same kind of way. And I believe the culture is starting to change. And so I think we’re going to be able to, no one’s ever really, for example, tested. Does this training program work better than that training program? Or what are the key elements of a training program for gun safety that are important to make sure that people do the safe things? We’ve never even done that research. So, I think we can get there. I think it’s going to take time. I think it’s going to take convincing people that we’re not against people. We’re for life and safety.

How can reporters cover gun safety without doing inadvertent harm to the affected community?


RICK WEISS: Great. I appreciate the fervor there as well. I was hoping to squeeze in one last question before we wrap it. I’m going to throw it out there, if anyone has a one-minute answer. But very interesting question from Sam Bailey at the Sheboygan Press, whose name I forgot to mention earlier on a question, but is there any advice on covering these issues without doing harm to the community by pointing out, inadvertently, that there may be, security gaps, that, that, we don’t really have the kind of protection that we ought to have? Does anyone have a one-minute hit on how to just do that carefully?”


SONALI RAJAN: I mean, I think it’s, I think it’s, it’s nuanced for the very reason that the experiences of each individual are probably understandably very nuanced. I do think that the coverage, I’ve seen that has done this in a very thoughtful, trauma-informed way, has allowed, or it has appeared to allow, in what I can see, the space and opportunity for those who are engaging with you in these interviews, to tell their story and share their perspective in a way that they want to, right, so really reflecting that experience, which is probably really challenging to do in some ways, when you have a perspective and an angle for peace. In a conversation with one of—with a reporter, who I know quite well, she did share with me, sometimes that, that drives, that drives the peace then, or the peace changes, or you pull a peace. And I don’t know the logistics of all this. But I do think that just a trauma-informed approach that recognizes, like the humanity, right of these individuals, who have gone through something that is so unthinkable, has to be sort of the center of the writing around this. So, that’s a vague, that’s a vague answer to your question. But that’s what in my observation of what I had seen it that has been done particularly well, that’s come to mind.


RICK WEISS: Understood.


AMANDA NICKERSON: Can I just chime in really quickly as well? Because I love this question. And I think the fact that it was asked that way shows that you probably do a good job with handling this. The other thing that I would say is that pointing out examples of what are doing—what is being done well can also be a way. So, are there schools that have done a vulnerability assessment that have proactively done a security check that have said, these are the things we found, and this is what we learned. And this was practical, and we feel good about this. And we included parents, and partnered with our police, and things like that. I think that if we had more of those, because it sounds like you’re wanting to not shame people in schools, but also elevate people’s awareness of their importance. So, I think that that could be a potentially good strategy as well.

What is one key take-home message for reporters covering this topic?


RICK WEISS: I love that. And it reminds me of a lot of what’s going on right now with climate reporting with people struggling with a similar thing, rather than only talking about the problems and helping people lose hope, show where it’s being done well, and where solutions are being generated. So, great advice across the board in journalism. I’m going to ask each of you for a quick 30-second take-home that reporters can take in its piteous form, to reiterate, or state fresh, one take-home message, you Want reporters to have as you go. And as we do this reporters, I want to remind you that as you log off at the end of this, you will see a brief survey come up. It’s only three questions. It really helps us if you will take a half minute to answer them. And I hope you will do that for us as you leave. But first, let’s hear from each of our speakers with one quick take home that you hope reporters will keep front of mind as they leave this briefing today. Sonali, I’ll start with you.


SONALI RAJAN: Gun violence is a solvable problem. School shootings are a fixable problem. So, we know a lot, and we just need the courage to implement a lot of the solutions that we know work.


RICK WEISS: That is pithy. Thank you. And Amanda?


AMANDA NICKERSON: Science is valuable, and there are prevention and preparedness strategies that don’t involve reactive, high expense, harmful practices. And these need to be highlighted and shown not only after an event, but in an ongoing, comprehensive way.


RICK WEISS: Great, thanks. And Marc?


MARC ZIMMERMAN: And I would say think ecologically, and think positively about all the things that Amanda was saying, and Sonali. And thinking about—thinking ecologically is the idea of multiple strategies, not just one.


RICK WEISS: Fantastic. What a rich and helpful briefing this has been, in my view. Thank you all for participating. To our speakers, to the journalists who tuned in today. I’m sure this is going to help the coverage be better, more heartfelt, and hopefully more effective in helping to create the change that needs to happen to save lives. Thanks all! And we’ll see you at our next SciLine media briefing. Check us out at So, long!



Dr. Amanda Nickerson

University at Buffalo SUNY

Dr. Amanda Nickerson is a professor of school psychology and director of the Alberti Center for Bullying Abuse Prevention at the University at Buffalo, the State University of New York. Her research focuses on understanding, preventing, and intervening with crises, violence, bullying, and abuse, as well as building social-emotional strengths and supports for youth. She is a licensed psychologist, nationally certified school psychologist, and fellow of the American Psychological Association. She is also a member of the National Association of School Psychologists School Safety and Crisis Prevention Committee.

Declared interests:


Dr. Sonali Rajan

Columbia University

Dr. Sonali Rajan is an associate professor in the department of health studies & applied educational psychology at Teachers College, Columbia University. She also holds a secondary faculty appointment in the department of epidemiology at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health. She is currently the senior associate director of research of the Edmund W. Gordon Institute for Urban and Minority Education, as well as the inaugural president of the Research Society for the Prevention of Firearm-Related Harms. Dr. Rajan is a school violence prevention researcher, studying gun violence, school safety, and adverse childhood experiences. She is co-leading research in these areas funded by the National Institutes of Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Her work prioritizes the needs for schools and communities to collectively attend to the well-being of children, while keeping them safe, reducing their exposure to violence, and ensuring opportunities for them to thrive.

Declared interests:


Dr. Marc Zimmerman

University of Michigan

Dr. Marc Zimmerman is a professor in health behavior and health education and in psychology as well as the co-director of the Institute for Firearm Injury Prevention, both at University of Michigan School of Public Health. His research focuses on adolescent health and resiliency, and empowerment theory, as well as on violence and firearm injury prevention. He has worked on identifying multi-disciplinary approaches to firearm injury prevention across the lifespan, including school shootings, and he has also evaluated the effects of school safety policies on perceptions of school safety. More recently, he has published on firearms availability among youth with depression, and his work continues to integrate community-based interventions.

Declared interests:

I am co-director of the U.S. Department of Justice Bureau of Justice-funded National Center for School Safety. I do not make a profit from that work, but my comments come from the work and experience from the work we do.

Dr. Amanda Nickerson slides


Dr. Sonali Rajan slides


Dr. Marc Zimmerman slides