What just happened?
On Monday, a heavily armed 28-year-old entered The Covenant School, a private Christian campus in Nashville, Tennessee, and killed three children and three staff members. The assailant, a woman who had identified as transgender and is believed to be a former student, was armed with two AR-style weapons and a handgun. She was killed by police at the scene.
The Nashville police say the assailant had detailed maps of the school and had shot through a locked door to gain entry. Authorities said they were reviewing what they described as a manifesto and other writing.
The police identified the six victims: Evelyn Dieckhaus, Hallie Scruggs, and William Kinney, all 9-year-old students; Cynthia Peak, 61, a substitute teacher; Mike Hill, 61, a custodian; and Katherine Koonce, 60, the head of the school.
The incident was the deadliest shooting since May 24, 2022, when an 18-year-old gunman entered Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, and killed 21 people and wounded 17 others.
What constitutes a school shooting?
There is currently no legal definition or consensus for how best to define a school shooting.
The lack of a clear definition makes it difficult to determine how many shootings fit the common perception of “school shooting” (i.e., an armed assailant entering a school to target students and teachers), rather than shooting incidents on school grounds (e.g., drive-by gang-related shootings, accidental discharge of a firearm on school grounds).
For example, the Center for Homeland Defense and Security tracked shooting incidents based on publicly available data from the beginning of 1970 through June 2022. They defined a school shooting as an instance where a gun is brandished or fired or a bullet hits school property for any reason, regardless of the number of victims, time of day, or day of the week. There were 2,035 shootings, 1,905 injuries, and 673 fatalities during that 52-year period.
For the purposes of this article, a more narrow set of criteria will be used to define a school shooting:
- At least one victim was injured or killed.
- The shooter discharged his or her weapon with the intention of harming a student or teacher at the school.
- Either the shooter or at least one of the victims was a student, former student, or teacher.
- The attack occurred on school property, including the parking lot, though not necessarily during school hours.
- Injuries are counted only if they resulted from gunfire, not from the ensuing chaos.
The basis for the analysis is publicly available information on shooting incidents reported over the period of January 1, 2020, to March 27, 2023.
How frequently do school shootings occur?
Using the criteria listed above, there have been 68 school shootings from January 1, 2020, to March 27, 2023, an average of 2.5 shootings per month.
Where do school shooting incidents most frequently occur?
Of the 68 shootings since 2020, 30 have occurred at high schools, 18 in school parking lots, 11 at colleges or universities, 5 at middle schools, and 4 at elementary schools.
How many deaths were involved in each shooting?
Since 2020, there have been 77 deaths (some including the assailants) across the 68 school shooting incidents, including
- 30 incidents without any fatalities,
- 28 incidents that resulted in one death,
- 3 incidents that resulted in two deaths,
- 2 incidents that resulted in three deaths,
- 2 incidents that resulted in four deaths,
- 1 incident that resulted in seven deaths (The Covenant School),
- 1 incident that resulted in 22 deaths (Robb Elementary School).
Why are there more school shootings in America than in other countries?
America is no more divided than Afghanistan, nor do we have a higher rate of mentally ill people than Australia. What makes our nation distinctive is our access to firearms. Although we make up less than 5 percent of the global population, we own approximately 46 percent of the world’s guns.
Currently, out of the 857 million civilian-held firearms, American civilians own an estimated 393 million guns. There are approximately 120.5 guns per every 100 people in the country, or 1.2 guns per person.
If we repealed the Second Amendment and the government began confiscating guns at the rate of 1 million firearms a month, it would take 33 years before we removed all the firearms in circulation. That’s likely why gun policies have a negligible effect on mass shootings. The sheer number of guns in the United States makes it nearly impossible to prevent someone from obtaining a firearm and using it to harm those on school properties.
What can Christians do about school shootings?
School shootings are a subset of the broader category of mass shootings. The Violence Project, a nonpartisan think tank, conducted a study and found four commonalities among the perpetrators of recent mass shootings:
1. The vast majority of mass shooters in their study experienced early childhood trauma and exposure to violence at a young age.
2. Almost every mass shooter had reached an identifiable crisis point in the weeks or months leading up to the shooting.
3. Most of the shooters had studied the actions of other shooters and sought validation for their motives.
4. The shooters all had the means to carry out their plans.
Christians should find ways to have an effect in each of these four areas. For example, churches can help by reaching out to young people suffering trauma. As researchers Jillian Peterson and James Densley say, churches contribute by “initiating conversations about mental health and establishing systems for identifying individuals in crisis, reporting concerns and reaching out—not with punitive measures but with resources and long-term intervention.”
We can also, as individual Christians, reach out to those in our spheres of influence who might have reached an “identifiable crisis point” and offer them the hope that can only be found in Jesus.
Another way we can make a difference after such evil acts is to make it more difficult for potential perpetrators to find validation for their planned actions. “We all can slow the spread of mass shootings by changing how we consume, produce, and distribute violent content on media and social media,” Peterson and Densley say. “Don’t like or share violent content. Don’t read or share killers’ manifestos and other hate screeds posted on the internet.”
Finally, we can support private and public actions that make it more difficult for would-be perpetrators to obtain firearms. For some people, this may mean securing access to their own weapons. (In 80 percent of school shootings studied by the Violence Project, the murderers got their weapons from family members.) For other people, this may mean supporting policies such as red-flag laws.
Christians can and will disagree about what public policy is most effective. But we must debate the issue in love by following the dictates of a biblically informed conscience that has been shaped by facts and evidence. Though we may be divided about policy solutions, we should be united in opposing the climate of hate and division that has allowed evil and violent ideology to flourish to the point where our children are put in danger at school. And we must, above all, continue to point our broken world to Jesus as the ultimate source of solace and salvation.