This year’s return to school has been one of the deadliest for students across the nation as counts of gun violence in schools exceeds figures from prior years.

From Aug. 1 to Sept. 15, there have been 30 instances of gunfire on school grounds, killing five and wounding 23, according to data collected by Everytown for Gun Safety. That is the most instances and people shot in that back-to-school period since Everytown started tracking gunfire on school grounds in 2013.

Everytown for Gun Safety is a nonprofit organization which advocates for gun control and against gun violence. It was formed in 2013 when two-gun control advocacy groups, Mayors Against Illegal Guns and Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America joined forces.

“Sadly, back to school has meant back to school shootings for too many communities across the country,” said Shannon Watts, founder of Moms Demand Action.

The group organized a panel Thursday morning to address the rise in gun violence in schools this year and recommend strategies to prevent gun incidents. The panel consisted of representatives from Moms Demand Action, Students Demand Action, American Federation of Teachers, National Education Association and the School Superintendents Association.

The panel came a day after a Wednesday shooting at a high school in Arlington, Texas, that injured four people.

In eastern Idaho, a sixth-grade student at Rigby Middle School was recently apprehended after bringing a gun to the school. In May, another student at the school shot and wounded two other students and a staff member.

Following the most recent incident in Rigby, Jefferson Joint School District Superintendent Chad Martin said in a Sept. 23 Facebook Live video posted that backpacks would no longer be allowed at Rigby Middle School, Farnsworth Middle School, Rigby High School and Jefferson High School. That decision has since been amended to allow students to bring clear backpacks to school, Rigby Middle School Principal Richard Howard announced in an email sent to parents on Oct. 1

CNN reported gun violence along with gun purchases in the U.S. has gone up since the COVID-19 pandemic began. Last year, Americans bought a record number of 23 million firearms — up 65% from 2019, according to Small Arms Analytics, a consulting firm based in Greenville, South Carolina. The National Shooting Sports Foundation estimates that among those purchasing guns in 2020, 8.4 million of them were new gun owners.

There were 255 deaths from gun violence in Idaho in 2019, according to the Educational Fund to Stop Gun Violence. Of those deaths, 87% were suicides and 16 of the 255 were people under 19 years old.

Panel members attributed the rise in gun violence in schools to more students having access to guns in their homes.

“If we want to address school safety, we have to intervene before gun violence can happen,” Watts said.

Some of the methods the group recommended to prevent gun violence were:

• Direct the U.S. Department of Education to develop a strategy to encourage school districts to send parents secure firearm storage information and raise awareness about the importance of secure storage in keeping schools safe.

• Publish guidance on the secure firearm storage information schools should disseminate and on the methods to reach parents, and incorporate the guidance in upcoming convenings, trainings and webinars.

• Develop and provide recommendations on the best type of secure storage devices to prevent unauthorized access by students.

• Direct the Consumer Product Safety Commission to complete the work initiated by the Obama Administration and review the effectiveness of gun locks and gun safes.

• Direct the Department of Justice to enforce the laws that prevent underage students from purchasing firearms and continue to call for Congressional action to close the loopholes in the background check law.

Joe Erardi, a school safety consultant for the School Superintendents Association, said he believes perpetrators have had more time without adult supervision to plan out acts of gun violence since the pandemic started because they’ve been at home more.

Erardi was the superintendent of schools in Newtown, Connecticut during the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in which 20 students and six adults were shot and killed.

“The formula of leaving students — in some cases very complex youngsters home — (and) in many cases that complex youngster having lots of time without adult supervision led to one of the most violent years this country has ever seen,” Erardi said.

Fear of gun violence can have negative effects for students in school, particularly for students who live in areas with high gun violence. A study on active shooter drills in schools conducted by Everytown and Georgia Tech in 2020 linked the drills to significant and lasting increases in depression, stress and anxiety, and fear of death among students, parents and teachers.

“We had to learn calculus at the same time we had to learn the best ways to watch your back when walking home,” said Justin Funez, a volunteer leader with Students Demand Action. “Learning how to protect ourselves became our second education.”

The panel recommended active shooter drills should not mimic an actual shooting incident and should incorporate trauma-informed approaches to address students’ well-being. Panel members said other strategies such as arming teachers and having law enforcement officers in schools were ineffective.

The Idaho House of Representatives approved a bill last session to allow school district employees with enhanced concealed weapons licenses to carry concealed weapons on school property.

In 2018, the National Association of School Resource Officers issued a statement to oppose arming teachers. The association said in the statement it would make incidents more dangerous because law enforcement could mistake a teacher as an assailant and teachers would be mentally unprepared to respond to an active shooter.

“Anyone who hasn’t received the extensive training provided to law enforcement officers will likely be mentally unprepared to take a life, especially the life of a student assailant,” the association said in the statement.

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