Gov. Greg Abbott

Gun Incidents at US Schools Hit Record High as Schools Return to In-Person Learning

Wednesday's shooting at a Texas high school continues a violent trend

A law enforcement officer walks in the parking lot of Timberview High School after a shooting inside the school in south Arlington, Texas, Wednesday, Oct. 6, 2021.
AP Photo/LM Otero

The shooting at a Texas high school Wednesday morning that left four people wounded was the state’s second school shooting within a week as weapons return with in-class learning.

By a number of measures, guns in schools remain a deadly danger as in-class learning that was paused during the coronavirus pandemic resumes.

The federal Center for Homeland Defense and Security recorded a total of 178 instances of guns present in schools for 2021, seven of them described as the result of an active shooter or a "continuous episode of violence."

Someone brandishing a gun would be included in the tally. That's up from 20 incidents in 1970, none of them resulting from an active shooter.

The Center for Homeland Defense and Security was established by the U.S. government in 2002 to train leaders in homeland security. It gathered its data from peer-reviewed studies, government reports, archived media reports and other sources.

Another tally comes from Everytown for Gun Safety, which recorded 30 cases of gunfire on school grounds during this year’s back-to-school period, from Aug. 1 to Sept. 15. Five people were killed and 23 wounded in the deadliest back-to-school period since Everytown started tracking gunfire on school grounds in 2013, the group said. Everytown was formed through a merger of Mayors Against Illegal Guns, created by former New York City Michael Bloomberg in 2006, and Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, which a stay-at-home mom, Shannon Watts, formed in 2012.

The group recorded 101 incidents of gunfire on school grounds in 2021, which resulted in 21 deaths and 56 injuries. Five took place in Texas, including a shooting on Friday left a Houston high school administrator wounded when a 25-year-old student allegedly shot his way through a glass barricade. The suspected shooter, who was armed with a rifle, surrendered to officers, police said.

The 18-year-old accused in this week's shooting had been bullied, his family said. The high school knew about the bullying, a cousin told The school district did not immediately return a request for comment.

Watts was critical of Texas legislators in a string of tweets Wednesday under the hashtag #txlege. She noted that firearms were the second leading cause of death among children and teens in Texas and that in an average year, 3,455 people die by guns in Texas. 

“Texans own among the most guns per capita,” she wrote in one. “If more guns and fewer laws made Texas safer, it would be the safest state in the US. Yet it has high rates of gun suicide and homicide, and is home to 4 of 10 deadliest mass shootings.”

More than 20 died in El Paso in 2019 when a gunman went on a rampage at a Walmart. He had posted writings online espousing white nationalist and anti-immigrant themes. 

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott spoke following the shooting at Timberview High School in Arlington, Texas, this morning.

At a press conference Wednesday, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott noted that Texas laws already in place made it "illegal for the shooter to either possess or to have purchased the gun that was used in this crime."

Earlier Abbott tweeted, "We’ll do everything possible to ensure the shooter is swiftly prosecuted.”

Gun control advocates called for tighter gun laws after the massacre in El Paso, but this year, the state’s lawmakers further weakened Texas’ gun laws. The Texas Legislature voted to lift a requirement that state residents get a license to carry handguns in public provided they are 21 years old and are not prohibited by law from owning one. As of Sept. 1, after Abbott signed the bill into law, Texas can carry handguns without a license or training, a measure that nearly six in 10 Texas voters disagreed with, according to a University of Texas/Texas Tribune poll.

The first vice president of the National Rifle Association, Charles Cotton, told Houston Public Media in August that the law simply gave Texans a right granted by the Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. Cotton, who had lobbied for the permit-less carry, nonetheless urged people to get training. 

The organization begun by former Arizona congresswoman Gabby Giffords, who was shot in the head at a constituent outreach event, gives Texas an F for its gun laws. Giffords Law Center writes on its website: “In 2019, Texas had the 27th-highest gun death rate among the states and exported the third largest number of crime guns.” 

It calls on legislators to require background checks on gun sales and strengthen laws restricting access to people convicted of domestic violence, hate crimes and other violent offenses. It did note two areas where Texas does well: mental health record reporting and child access prevention laws. 

In general, state law prohibits members of the public from carrying guns in kindergarten through twelfth-grade school, it says. Law governing colleges and universities are more lenient but even with the change in licensing requirements “people without these licenses are generally not authorized to carry on college or university campuses or K-12 schools either,” according to Giffords.

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