March 6, 2003 -- Most school-related killings occur at the hand of a student who didn't have to look far for their weapon. A new report shows nearly 40% of students who used a gun in a murder or suicide at school got their firearm from their own home, and 23% got it from a friend or relative.
Researchers from the CDC who compiled the report say the findings show that the safe storage of firearms is critical to preventing deadly school violence, and new strategies to prevent unauthorized use of handguns and other firearms should be evaluated to reduce gun-related injuries and deaths among adolescents.
According to the report, released in the March 7 issue of the CDC's Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR), 218 students were involved in a homicide or suicide at school between June 1992 and June 1999, and more than half of those perpetrators (56%) used at least one firearm.
Most of these students were male (94%), and the average age was 16. About a quarter of the cases involved students who committed suicide, about 70% perpetrated a homicide, and 4% were combination homicide-suicide.
The study found that firearms used in a school-related suicide were about 11 times more likely to have come from the home of the student than those who committed a homicide at school. But school shootings involving more than one victim were more likely to involve guns from the home than single-victim events.
In addition, students without a criminal history or with no record of gang activity were also more likely to obtain guns for use in school violence from home than those with criminal or gang history.
Researchers say the results show that new strategies are needed to prevent firearm-related deaths and injuries among students.
One approach might be to encourage pediatricians to counsel parents on the risks of having firearms in the home and the need to store them securely, such as unloaded and locked with a trigger lock or in a firearm safe. But this may not be effective because fathers are more likely than mothers to own firearms and know how they are stored, but men are much less likely to take their children to the doctor.
The study also shows that it's not enough for parents to limit access to guns in the home because about 25% of the firearms used in these school shootings were obtained from friends or other relatives. Researchers say that means parents should also consider discussing access to firearms and storage practices with their relatives and the parents of their child's friends.
The authors of the report also note that emerging technologies such as personalization of handguns that are designed to prevent unauthorized use of firearms might also be useful in limiting adolescents' access to guns.
SOURCE: Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, March 7, 2003.