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Indicator 14: Students Carrying Weapons on School Property and Anywhere and Students' Access to Firearms
(Last Updated: March 2018)

Between 1993 and 2015, the percentage of students in grades 9–12 who reported carrying a weapon anywhere during the previous 30 days decreased from 22 to 16 percent, and the percentage of students who reported carrying a weapon on school property during the previous 30 days decreased from 12 to 4 percent.

This indicator uses data from the Youth Risk Behavior Survey (YRBS) to examine the percentages of students who carried a weapon on school property and anywhere, then uses state data from the EDFacts data collection to look at the numbers of incidents involving students with firearms at school by state. It concludes with a discussion of data from the School Crime Supplement (SCS) to the National Crime Victimization Survey on students' access to firearms at school or away from school. Readers should take note of the differing data sources and terminology.

In the YRBS, students in grades 9–12 were asked if they had carried a weapon such as a gun, knife, or club anywhere during the previous 30 days and if they had carried such a weapon on school property during the same time period.66 In this indicator, the percentage of students carrying a weapon "anywhere"67 is included as a point of comparison with the percentage of students carrying a weapon on school property.

In 2015, about 16 percent of students reported that they had carried a weapon anywhere at least 1 day during the previous 30 days: 8 percent reported carrying a weapon anywhere on 6 or more days, 5 percent reported carrying a weapon on 2 to 5 days, and 3 percent reported carrying a weapon on 1 day (tables 14.1 and 14.2). Also in 2015, about 4 percent of students reported carrying a weapon on school property at least 1 day during the previous 30 days. This percentage included 2 percent of students who reported carrying a weapon on 6 or more days, 1 percent of students who reported carrying a weapon on 2 to 5 days, and 1 percent of students who reported carrying a weapon on 1 day during the previous 30 days.

The percentage of students who reported carrying a weapon anywhere during the previous 30 days decreased from 22 percent in 1993 (the first year of YRBS data collection) to 16 percent in 2015, and the percentage of students who reported carrying a weapon on school property during the previous 30 days decreased from 12 percent in 1993 to 4 percent in 2015 (figure 14.1 and table 14.1). The percentage of students who reported carrying a weapon on school property during the previous 30 days was lower in 2015 than in 2013 (5 percent). However, there was no measurable difference between 2013 and 2015 in the percentage of students who reported carrying a weapon anywhere during the previous 30 days.


Figure 14.1. Percentage of students in grades 9–12 who reported carrying a weapon at least 1 day during the previous 30 days, by location and sex: Selected years, 1993 through 2015

Figure 14.1. Percentage of students in grades 9–12 who reported carrying a weapon at least 1 day during the previous 30 days, by location and sex: Selected years, 1993 through 2015

NOTE: Respondents were asked about carrying "a weapon such as a gun, knife, or club." The term "anywhere" is not used in the Youth Risk Behavior Survey (YRBS) questionnaire; students were simply asked how many days they carried a weapon during the past 30 days. In the question asking students about carrying a weapon at school, "on school property" was not defined for survey respondents.
SOURCE: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Division of Adolescent and School Health, Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System (YRBSS), 1993 through 2015.


In every survey year from 1993 to 2015, a higher percentage of male students than of female students reported that they had carried a weapon, both anywhere and on school property, during the previous 30 days. In 2015, for example, 24 percent of male students reported carrying a weapon anywhere, compared with 8 percent of female students. In addition, 6 percent of male students reported carrying a weapon on school property, compared with 2 percent of female students.

In 2015, higher percentages of American Indian/Alaska Native students (22 percent), students of Two or more races (21 percent), and White students (18 percent) reported carrying a weapon anywhere during the previous 30 days than did Hispanic students (14 percent), Black students (12 percent), and Asian students (7 percent; figure 14.2 and table 14.1). Additionally, the percentage of students who reported carrying a weapon anywhere was higher for Pacific Islander (26 percent), Hispanic, and Black students than for Asian students. With respect to carrying a weapon on school property, a higher percentage of American Indian/Alaska Native students (10 percent) than of Hispanic (5 percent), White (4 percent), Black (3 percent) and Asian (2 percent) students reported that they had carried a weapon on school property during the previous 30 days. The percentage of students reporting that they carried a weapon on school property was also higher for Pacific Islander students (15 percent), students of Two or more races (6 percent), and Hispanic students than for Asian students.


Figure 14.2. Percentage of students in grades 9–12 who reported carrying a weapon at least 1 day during the previous 30 days, by location and race/ethnicity: 2015

Figure 14.2. Percentage of students in grades 9–12 who reported carrying a weapon at least 1 day during the previous 30 days, by location and race/ethnicity: 2015

! Interpret data with caution. The coefficient of variation (CV) for this estimate is between 30 and 50 percent.
NOTE: Respondents were asked about carrying "a weapon such as a gun, knife, or club." Race categories exclude persons of Hispanic ethnicity. The term "anywhere" is not used in the Youth Risk Behavior Survey (YRBS) questionnaire; students were simply asked how many days they carried a weapon during the past 30 days. In the question asking students about carrying a weapon at school, "on school property" was not defined for survey respondents.
SOURCE: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Division of Adolescent and School Health, Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System (YRBSS), 2015.


There were no measurable differences by grade in the percentage of students in grades 9 through 12 who reported carrying a weapon anywhere during the previous 30 days in 2015: about 16 percent of students in each grade reported carrying a weapon anywhere during the previous 30 days. Additionally, no measurable differences were observed by grade in the percentage of students who reported carrying a weapon on school property, except the percentage was higher for 11th-graders than for 9th-graders (5 vs. 3 percent).

In 2015, the YRBS added a new question to identify students' sexual orientation by asking students in grades 9–12 which of the following best described them—"heterosexual (straight)," "gay or lesbian," "bisexual," or "not sure."68 In 2015, there were no measurable differences by sexual orientation in the percentages of students who reported carrying a weapon anywhere during the previous 30 days. However, a higher percentage of gay, lesbian, or bisexual students than of heterosexual students reported that they had carried a weapon on school property during the previous 30 days (6 vs. 4 percent; table 14.3).

In 2015, data on percentages of public school students who reported carrying a weapon anywhere were available for 27 states and the District of Columbia (table 14.4). Among these jurisdictions, the percentages of students who reported carrying a weapon anywhere ranged from 9 percent in California to 30 percent in Wyoming. There were also 33 states that had 2015 data available on the percentages of students reporting that they carried a weapon on school property during the previous 30 days; the percentages ranged from 2 percent in Pennsylvania to 11 percent in Montana and Wyoming.

As part of the EDFacts data collection, state education agencies report the number of incidents involving students who brought or possessed firearms at school. State education agencies compile these data based on incidents that were reported by their schools and school districts. During the 2015–16 school year, there were 1,600 reported firearm possession incidents at schools in the United States (table 14.5).69 The number of incidents varies widely across jurisdictions, due in large part to their differing populations. Therefore, the rate of firearm possession incidents per 100,000 students can provide a more comparable indication of the frequency of these incidents across jurisdictions. During the 2015–16 school year, the rate of firearm possession incidents was 3 per 100,000 students in the United States.

The majority of jurisdictions had rates between 1 and 10 firearm possession incidents per 100,000 students during the 2015–16 school year. Two states, Hawaii and Maine, reported no firearm incidents and therefore had a rate of 0 firearm possession incidents per 100,000 students. Five other states had rates of firearm possession incidents per 100,000 students below 1: New Jersey, Iowa, New Hampshire, Maryland, and North Dakota, while three states had rates above 10: Louisiana, Arkansas, and Missouri.

Information about students' access to firearms can put student reports of carrying a gun anywhere and on school property into context. In the SCS survey, students were asked if they could have gotten a loaded gun without adult permission, either at school or away from school, during the current school year. In 2015, about 4 percent of students ages 12–18 reported having access to a loaded gun without adult permission, either at school or away from school, during the current school year (figure 14.3 and table 14.6). The percentage of students ages 12–18 who reported that they had access to a loaded gun without adult permission decreased from 7 percent in 2007 (the first year of data collection for this item) to 4 percent in 2015. However, there was no measurable difference between 2013 and 2015 in the percentage of students who reported having such access to a loaded gun.


Figure 14.3. Percentage of students ages 12–18 who reported having access to a loaded gun, without adult permission, at school or away from school during the school year, by sex: Selected years, 2007 through 2015

Figure 14.3. Percentage of students ages 12–18 who reported having access to a loaded gun, without adult permission, at school or away from school during the school year, by sex: Selected years, 2007 through 2015

SOURCE: U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics, School Crime Supplement (SCS) to the National Crime Victimization Survey, 2007 through 2015.


In every survey year from 2007 to 2015 (except in 2013), a higher percentage of male students than of female students ages 12–18 reported having access to a loaded gun without adult permission, either at school or away from school. In 2015, about 5 percent of male students reported having access to a loaded gun without adult permission, compared with 3 percent of female students. The percentages of male and female students who reported having such access to a loaded gun were both lower in 2015 than in 2007 (5 and 8 percent for males; 3 and 5 percent for females), but there were no measurable differences between the percentages in 2013 and 2015.

In 2015, higher percentages of 11th- and 12th-graders reported having access to a loaded gun without adult permission, either at school or away from school, than did 6th-, 7th-, 8th-, and 9th-graders. About 7 percent of 12th-graders and 6 percent of 11th-graders reported having access to a loaded gun without adult permission, compared with 3 percent each of 7th-, 8th-, and 9th-graders and 2 percent of 6th-graders. The percentage of 10th-graders reporting that they had access to a gun without adult permission (5 percent) was also higher than the percentage of 6th-graders reporting such access.


This indicator repeats student-reported information from the Indicators of School Crime and Safety: 2016 report, but the text has been revised to include additional breakouts that were previously included in a Spotlight feature. This indicator has also been updated to include 2015–16 data on discipline incidents related to weapons possession. For more information: Tables 14.1, 14.2, 14.3, 14.4, 14.5, and 14.6, and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2016a), (http://www.cdc.gov/healthyyouth/data/yrbs/pdf/2015/ss6506_updated.pdf), Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2016b), (http://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/volumes/65/ss/pdfs/ss6509.pdf), and https://nces.ed.gov/programs/crime/.


66 The term "anywhere" is not used in the Youth Risk Behavior Survey (YRBS) questionnaire; students were simply asked how many days they carried a weapon during the past 30 days. In the question asking students about carrying a weapon at school, "on school property" was not defined for survey respondents.
67 "Anywhere" includes on school property.
68 In this indicator, students who identified as "gay or lesbian" or "bisexual" are discussed together as the "gay, lesbian, or bisexual" group. Although there are likely to be differences among students who identify with each of these orientations, small sample sizes preclude analysis for each of these groups separately. Students were not asked whether they identified as transgender on the YRBS.
69 U.S. total includes 50 states and the District of Columbia.