Stricter gun laws have been linked to lower rates of students carrying weapons on campus, lower rates of weapons threats at school, and improved perception of school safety, according to a study recently published in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health.
The researchers used data from the Youth Risk Behavior Survey, a survey conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention biennially since 1991 across the United States. The survey asks students in grades 9 to 12 to respond to questions regarding whether they have ever carried a weapon on school campus, whether they have ever been threatened with a weapon at school, and whether they have ever missed school because they felt unsafe.
Analyzing data collected between 1999 and 2015 in over 45 states, researchers found that 7% of students reported being threatened or injured with a weapon at school, 4.8% reported carrying a weapon on school property, and 6.1% reported missing school due to feeling unsafe. Investigators summarized each states’ gun laws year-to-year using an index system with lower numbers indicating more lenient gun laws.
In the time period studied, 11 states did not change their gun control index; 17 states decreased it by an average of 3 points, and the other 17 states increased it by an average of 7 points. Overall, the investigators found that a 15-point increase in the gun control index correlated with a 1.9% decrease in the probability of youths carrying a weapon in any location, a 0.8% decrease in the probability of them being threatened or injured with a weapon at school, and a 1.1% decrease in the probability that they would miss a day of school due to feeling unsafe.
Limitations of this study stem, in part, from some missing information: a question specifically about gun carrying was not asked in every state, for example. Additionally, 5 states did not have any data collected for this study at all. Lastly, neither socioeconomic circumstances nor specific measurement of firearm violence were considered.
Researchers conclude that “[t]his work sheds light on the relationship between state-level gun control and students’ weapon carrying and perception of school safety” and encourage further research to assess the efficacy of stricter gun laws as a policy instrument to improve school climate.
Ghiani M, Hawkins SS, Baum CF. Gun laws and school safety [published online March 21, 2019]. J Epidemiol Community Health. doi: 10.1136/jech-2018-211246