At least 42 acts of gun violence were committed on K-12 campuses during regular hours in 2021, the most during any year since at least 1999, according to a Washington Post database. The nation broke the previous record of 30, despite most schools remaining closed to in-person classes for the first two months of the year. About 34,000 students were exposed to gun violence in 2021, bringing the tally since the Columbine High massacre to more than 285,000. Researchers have speculated that a spike in gun sales, soaring rates of overall violence, the pandemic and the chaos of the past year all played some role. Bruce Perry, a psychiatrist who has worked with grieving families, suspects that societal fissures have had a substantial impact on children’s behavior. “The more connected you feel, the less likely you will be to dehumanize, demonize, devalue and destroy,” said Perry, co-author of “What Happened to You? Conversations on Trauma, Resilience, and Healing.” “Lethal violence to others is more related to the marginalization, isolation, social fragmentation than the stress of the pandemic.”
Targeted shootings in which one person attacks another drove much of the year’s increase. Because just two were indiscriminate shootings, 2021’s casualties — nine dead, 36 wounded — did not come near 2018, when 33 people died, the worst year on record. The shooting that killed four teens at Michigan’s Oxford High School on Nov. 30 was the worst rampage since 2018, bringing a wave of new attention to an ongoing crisis. The case has brought unprecedented scrutiny to the responsibility parents bear when their children use the adults’ unsecured weapons to open fire at schools. While the Oxford shooting was the year’s most prominent, it wasn’t the last. At least eight more have happened since, though no one died in them.