Conference Coverage

Most perpetrators in school shootings brought guns from home



– A new analysis of all school shootings, including those with four or fewer victims, reinforces the need for prevention in the home by preventing guns from falling into unauthorized use.

Dr. Ayame Takahashi of Southern Illinois University Medicine Jim Kling/MDedge News

Dr. Ayame Takahashi

The researchers examined 223 shootings in the United States that occurred during 2005-2012 and found that in more than a third of the 60 cases for which information was available, the perpetrator obtained the gun from the home and was aged 17 years or younger. Furthermore, evidence of mental illness in the shooter was rare.

The finding complements studies of “mass shootings,” which tend to garner headlines and more research attention, according to Ayame Takahashi, MD, who presented the findings at a poster session at the annual meeting of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry. “What we see in the news are the big rampage shootings, with multiple victims, where the target may be anyone they can get. You hear in little bits and pieces about the single-shooter incidents, which are way more common.

“We wanted to look at as many of these cases as we could find to look at the overall variables that might be behind these smaller school shootings, which are way more common,” said Dr. Takahashi, who is an assistant professor of psychiatry at Southern Illinois University Medicine, Springfield.

The researchers identified shootings using the data from the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence during 1997-2012, and supplemented it with listings found in “The Bully Society: School shootings and the crisis of bullying in America’s schools” (New York: NYU Press, 2013). Other sources included a study on rampage shootings in U.S. high school and college settings during 2002-2008; the Virginia Tech Review Panel report, a 2014 FBI report, the Everytown for Gun Safety website, and the list of school shootings on Wikipedia.

The analysis included incidents that had occurred on a school property, including school buses, at a time when students or staff would have been at risk. The offender could have been a current or former student or employee, or anyone who came onto the school property with the intent to harm students or staff.

The sample included 223 shootings. In 60 cases, the researchers found information about how guns were obtained, and in 37% of those cases, the source was the offender’s home and the offender was 17 years old or younger. In 30% of the cases, the shooter owned the gun, but in almost all these cases, the shooter was aged 19 years or older.

Sixty-one cases had information available about the presence or absence of mental illness in the offender. In 20% of these cases, the shooter was determined to have a mental illness or, rarely, a developmental disability.

The results suggest that mental illness might be rare among school shooters, and therefore, call into question efforts to limit gun ownership among people with mental illness. “It may be barking up the wrong tree,” Dr. Takahashi said.

Instead, she advocates more messaging of gun safety in the home, to prevent unauthorized use. Psychiatrists can help by discussing these issues with patients, but she also called for more community involvement and education about the issue.

“The people who come to you, they’re kind of in your court already. I think what we need to do as a profession is go out and educate the public more, talk in schools, community meetings, things like that, so that the message gets out there beyond the folks that we see in our offices,” she said.

Dr. Takahashi has no relevant disclosures.

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