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Illustration by iStock; Security Management

Number of Firearms Confiscated in U.S. Schools Rising Sharply

News reports identified more than 1,150 guns brought to U.S. K-12 school campuses but seized before they were fired in the 2022-23 school year, according to a Washington Post investigation. Nationwide, one in 47 school-age children attend a school where at least one gun was found and reported on by the media.

The Post tallied the cases by combing through tens of thousands of news stories from the school year, but the report notes that the true number of seized weapons is likely much higher; a survey of 51 of the largest school systems in the United States showed that 58 percent of firearm seizures were never publicly reported by news organizations—the incidents in some regions were just too frequent to warrant significant news coverage, the Post notes. The districts also noted that the number of guns on campus rose sharply in recent years.

“The Post found that the number of campus gun seizures spiked significantly between the 2018-2019 school year and the 2022-2023 school year—a five-year period that, following the pandemic shutdowns, also has seen significantly more behavioral problems in school,” the article explains. “The 47 districts for which the Post was able to obtain five full school years of data saw a 79 percent increase in guns found on campuses over that time frame. In many communities, the number of guns found has more than doubled, a trend that mirrors a precipitous rise in school shootings.”

Five in six of the gun seizures reported in the news involved weapons brought to school by students—some as young as 4, the Post notes. Nearly 17 percent of incidents involved a gun brought by people who were not students. Firearms were found in backpacks, lockers, trashcans, cars, pockets—pretty much everywhere. Some were brought by accident, and others were brought to show off, with students taking selfies with guns in the school restroom. Police allege that in many cases the guns were brought to kill people.

According to the report, “School resource officers often play an essential role in learning who has a gun and seizing it, according to cases reviewed by the Post and interviews with experts. While often seen as a controversial presence on campus, such officers can be crucial in gaining the trust of students and staff, school-safety experts say, and in taking swift action to stop school shootings before they happen.

Anonymous tip apps and systems can also be instrumental; one system that debuted in 2018 has averted at least 15 planned school shootings since then, according to the organization that runs the system,” the article continues. “But clear backpacks and metal detectors at school entrances, while reassuring to parents, do little to stop students from slipping guns through side and rear doors. Overall, experts say, expensive weapons-detection technology is no substitute for a school community where children trust adults enough to tell them when something appears to be wrong.”

This echoes guidance from Guy Bliesner, a school safety and security analyst working to assess schools in southeast Idaho, who wrote in Security Management that, “Most school security failures are human failures and not system or equipment failures. It comes down to people. It is always the people of a school community who keep their school safe.”

In addition to building a culture that understands and participates in security, reporting of suspicious activity is essential. But that depends on the school community trusting that their reports will be taken seriously. “Where there is no cultural expectation that the issue will be addressed and the student will be helped after a report is submitted, failure to report is infinitely more likely,” he wrote.

“The development of a ‘upstander’ rather than ‘bystander’ ethos is the critical first step,” Bliesner continued. “There needs to be an easily accessible, well-advertised anonymous or confidential reporting system. And just like for your teachers, a certainty that once reported the issue will be addressed. Reporting will only happen when students believe that a reported friend will be helped and not disciplined. There must be a cultural expectation developed across the school community that the school will cradle and care for students.”