Who is most likely to carry a weapon in school?

Racist stereotypes imply that non-White male adolescents are more likely to be carrying a weapon at school than their White peers. A report argues that the opposite is more likely.

A common racist stereotype is that non-White males are more dangerous than their White peers and more likely to be carrying weapons, particularly guns. This bias can have tragic consequences. An investigation in Pediatrics examined whether any race/ethnicity is more likely to be carrying a weapon.1

The investigators used data from the Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System surveys from 1993-2019. The surveys provided a representative sample of adolescents attending high school in the United States. All data are confidential and self-reported. The main outcome for the investigators was self-reported weapon carrying in school in the past 30 days, which included not only guns but also knives or clubs. They also looked at questions that asked about how safe the teenager felt in school; how often the teenager had been threatened or injured at school; and how often the adolescent had gotten into a physical fight on school property.

From 1993 to 2019, there was a substantial reduction in the overall prevalence of weapon carrying in schools and this trend occurred consistently in all age groups as well as race/ethnicity groups. In the 2 most recent surveys, 93.3% (95% CI: 92.5%–94.1%) of all male respondents said that they hadn’t missed school because of lack of perceived safety. Additionally, 88.6% of the respondents (95% CI: 87.6%–89.5%) stated that that had been in no physical fights in the past 12 months and 92.3% (95% CI: 91.6%–92.9%) of the respondents noted that they hadn’t been threatened or injured in the past 12 months. The response indicated that a higher level of negative school experience was tied to more frequent weapon carrying across all racial and/or ethnic and age groups. Negative experiences were more common among Black and Hispanic boys than their non-Hispanic White peers. However, in schools where there were no safety concerns, which means most schools in the United States, it was non-Hispanic white boys who were the most likely to bring weapons into school and this trend dates from the late 1990s and was particularly true in adolescent males aged ≥17 years.

The investigators concluded that weapon carrying has drastically dropped over the past couple of decades. Black and Hispanic students are only more likely to carry a weapon if they were in a school environment where they had negative safety experiences, unlike their White peers who are more likely to do so in safe school environments. Working on improving school safety could lead to a reduction in weapons found in schools seen as unsafe.

Reference

1. Jewett P, Gangnon R, Kafka J, Areba E, Malecki K, Borowsky I. Weapon carrying among boys in US schools by race and/or ethnicity: 1993–2019. Pediatrics. June 23, 2021. Epub ahead of print. doi:10.1542/peds.2020-049623