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2021: A year pierced by gunfire on school grounds

While the pandemic effectively stopped school shootings in 2020 because of remote learning, the violence picked right back up in 2021 when students returned to the classroom.

Now, as 2021 has come to a close, advocates and researchers are looking back at a deadly year riddled with a record number of school shootings, the Washington Post and Everytown Research report. 

During last year alone, there were at least 42 acts of gun violence committed on K-12 campuses during school hours in 2021 — and more than 600 mass shootings of any kind, the Gun Violence Archive shows. The archive defines a mass shooting as an incident with four or more people injured or killed, not including the perpetrator.

To add to that data, Everytown Researchers note that there were at least 149 incidents of gunfire on all American school grounds, resulting in 32 deaths and 94 injuries nationally. 

Though high schools have historically been the location for the majority of school shootings, incidents at colleges and universities have increased dramatically in the last two decades, according to data visualized by Click Orlando. 

With that, the burning memory that many will carry with them into the new year is of images or experiences of Michigan’s Oxford High School shooting on Nov. 30, which saw the tragic deaths of four teenagers.

This event, perpetrated by a 15-year-old, has been defined as the “worst rampage since 2018,” The Washington Post details, noting that the incident has brought a new wave of attention to the ongoing gun violence crisis.

Now, as we enter into the new year and students returned back to school on Monday, the Michigan school district housing Oxford community schools will require students to use provided clear backpacks for high school and middle school students “for the foreseeable future,” according to USA Today.

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The district has yet to announce the high school’s reopening.

Even though the Oxford shooting was the year’s most prominent, taking place at the end of November, it wasn’t the last one of 2021 — and it wasn’t the only one that left a community devastated. 

At least eight other school shootings happened in the final month of 2021, but no one had died in the events.

Advocating for change

Lawmakers were desperate to do something in mid-December, so 15 senators and 99 Democratic House members sent a letter to U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona, urging his agency “to raise awareness about secure gun storage” by encouraging school districts to educate parents on how essential it is that they secure their firearms.

“These common-sense solutions cannot wait,” the lawmakers concluded, as quoted by the Washington Post — a plea that reflected their own inability to pass common-sense solutions themselves.

NRA spokeswoman Amy Hunter told The Washington Post that the organization “supports safe storage for every firearm owned in America,” but said it would oppose a law mandating that people secure their weapons.

“We believe it should be a personal decision based upon the specific needs of the firearm owner or household versus mandating one specific method for every gun owner in the state,” Hunter wrote in an email.

To that end, the Department of Justice announced new gun safety and storage best practices, advocating for secure gun storage or safety devices, The Crime Report details. 

Looking for other possible solutions, Darcie Vandegrift, a sociologist researcher looking at the profile of school shooters, consultant and a lecturing professor at Drake University writes in her latest op-ed with The Conversation that if our country wants to change the climate that is enabling these horrors: “mourning after mass shootings isn’t enough.”

She details how, on December 14, Americans marked another anniversary of the tragic loss of children and teachers at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut, yet not much has changed since the 20 individuals lost their lives — yet the sociological context and public health crisis proves that these shooters were predominantly white men, and one angle of ending these horrors is changing the script of young masculinity teaching and mental health access. 

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“While talking about how entitlement, racism and violence contaminate masculinity is a tough conversation, continuing to endure the consequences is even worse,” Vandegrift concludes.

This report was first published by The Crime Report.

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Protestors at the March for Our Lives in St. Paul, Minn., on March 24, 2018 to demand lawmakers take action on gun law reform.