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Spotlight 3: Active Shooter Incidents in Educational Settings
(Last Updated: April 2019)

From 2000 to 2017, there were 37 active shooter incidents at elementary and secondary schools and 15 active shooter incidents at postsecondary institutions.

The Indicators of School Crime and Safety report aims to capture a wide range of student experiences, from more common occurrences to rarer events. Active shooter incidents are a rare occurrence and represent a small subset of the possible violent incidents that occur at schools. While rare, these events are of high concern to all those interested in the safety of our nation’s students.

In 2014, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) released its first in a series of reports that covered active shooter incidents in the United States, following the signing of the Investigative Assistance for Violent Crimes Act of 2012 (Blair and Schweit 2014). These reports cover active shooter incidents in all types of settings, but this spotlight focuses on those incidents that occurred in educational settings. Educational settings were the second-most common location for active shooter incidents to occur, behind incidents in commerce settings.10 This spotlight focuses on active shooter incidents at elementary and secondary schools and at postsecondary institutions from 2000 to 2017. It presents data on the frequency of incidents, the number of casualties, characteristics of the incidents, and characteristics of the shooters.

“Active shooter” is a law enforcement term describing a shooting in progress. The FBI defines an active shooter as "one or more individuals actively engaged in killing or attempting to kill people in a populated area." Because the situation is active, law enforcement and citizens involved in the incident have the potential to affect the outcome. Due to the specific definition used to determine an active shooter incident, this spotlight is not a comprehensive overview of gun violence or serious violent incidents in U.S. education settings. Data in this spotlight should be considered in conjunction with other indicators in the report to gain a broader picture of violent incidents in our nation’s schools.11

From 2000 to 2017, there were 37 active shooter incidents at elementary and secondary schools12 and 15 active shooter incidents at postsecondary institutions. The annual number of active shooter incidents at elementary and secondary schools per year ranged from 0 to 6 during this time span (figure S3.1 and table S3.1). There were 4 years from 2000 to 2017 in which 0 active shooter incidents occurred, 6 years in which 1–2 active shooter incidents occurred, 7 years in which 3–4 active shooter incidents occurred, and 1 year in which 6 active shooter incidents occurred. At postsecondary institutions, the annual number of active shooter incidents per year ranged from 0 to 2 from 2000 to 2017. There were 8 years during this time span in which 0 active shooter incidents occurred and 10 years in which 1–2 active shooter incidents occurred.


Figure S3.1. Number of active shooter incidents, by level of institution: 2000 through 2017

Figure S3.1. Number of active shooter incidents, by level of institution: 2000 through 2017

1 The elementary and secondary schools count includes one active shooter incident at a county board of education meeting.
2 The elementary and secondary schools count includes one active shooter incident at a city school board meeting.
NOTE: The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) defines an active shooter as “one or more individuals actively engaged in killing or attempting to kill people in a populated area.”
SOURCE: U.S. Department of Justice, Federal Bureau of Investigation, A Study of Active Shooter Incidents in the United States Between 2000 and 2013, Active Shooter Incidents in the United States in 2014 and 2015, and Active Shooter Incidents in the United States in 2016 and 2017, retrieved August 10, 2018, from https://www.fbi.gov/about/partnerships/office-of-partner-engagement/active-shooter-resources.


From 2000 to 2017, there were 153 casualties (67 killed and 86 wounded) in active shooter incidents at elementary and secondary schools, and 143 casualties (70 killed and 73 wounded) in active shooter incidents at postsecondary institutions.13 At the elementary and secondary level, the number of casualties as a result of active shooter incidents per year ranged from 0 to 36 from 2000 to 2017 (figure S3.2 and table S3.1). The number of casualties per year at the postsecondary level ranged from 0 to 49. At both the elementary and secondary level and the postsecondary level, there were more years in which the number wounded was higher than the number killed.


Figure S3.2. Number of active shooter incident casualties, by level of institution: 2000 through 2017

Figure S3.2. Number of active shooter incident casualties, by level of institution: 2000 through 2017

1 Includes one active shooter incident at a county board of education meeting.
2 Includes one active shooter incident at a city school board meeting.
NOTE: The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) defines an active shooter as “one or more individuals actively engaged in killing or attempting to kill people in a populated area.” Number of casualties excludes active shooters.
SOURCE: U.S. Department of Justice, Federal Bureau of Investigation, A Study of Active Shooter Incidents in the United States Between 2000 and 2013, Active Shooter Incidents in the United States in 2014 and 2015, and Active Shooter Incidents in the United States in 2016 and 2017, retrieved August 10, 2018, from https://www.fbi.gov/about/partnerships/office-of-partner-engagement/active-shooter-resources.


A single gun was used in the majority of active shooter incidents at education settings from 2000 to 2017, and two-thirds of guns used were handguns. Of the 37 active shooter incidents at elementary and secondary schools from 2000 to 2017, the shooter used a single gun in 23 of the incidents and more than one gun in the other 14 incidents (figure S3.3 and table S3.2). A total of 35 handguns, 10 shotguns, and 13 rifles were used. Of the 15 active shooter incidents at postsecondary institutions from 2000 to 2017, the shooter used a single gun in 8 incidents and more than one gun in 7 incidents. A total of 22 handguns,14 3 shotguns, and 2 rifles were used.


Figure S3.3. Number of active shooter incidents by number of guns used in incident and number of guns used by gun type, by level of institution: 2000 through 2017

Figure S3.3. Number of active shooter incidents by number of guns used in incident and number of guns used by gun type, by level of institution: 2000 through 2017

1 One shooter was reported to have used “several handguns,” which was counted as 3 for the total.
NOTE: The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) defines an active shooter as “one or more individuals actively engaged in killing or attempting to kill people in a populated area.”
SOURCE: U.S. Department of Justice, Federal Bureau of Investigation, A Study of Active Shooter Incidents in the United States Between 2000 and 2013, Active Shooter Incidents in the United States in 2014 and 2015, and Active Shooter Incidents in the United States in 2016 and 2017, retrieved August 10, 2018, from https://www.fbi.gov/about/partnerships/office-of-partner-engagement/active-shooter-resources.


Each of the active shooter incidents at education settings from 2000 to 2017 involved a single shooter. All 37 active shooters at elementary and secondary schools were male. At postsecondary institutions, 13 of the active shooters were male, and the other 2 were female. Of the 37 active shooters at elementary and secondary schools, the majority (26) were 12 to 18 years old, 3 of the shooters were 19 to 24 years old and 8 were 25 years old and above (figure S3.4 and table S3.2). At the postsecondary level, 1 shooter was 12 to 18 years old, 4 were 19 to 24 years old, and 10 were 25 years old and above. Most of the shooters were current or former students of the school at both the elementary and secondary level and the postsecondary level (Blair and Schweit 2014).


Figure S3.4. Number of active shooters, by age and level of institution: 2000 through 2017

Figure S3.4. Number of active shooters, by age and level of institution: 2000 through 2017

NOTE: The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) defines an active shooter as “one or more individuals actively engaged in killing or attempting to kill people in a populated area.”
SOURCE: U.S. Department of Justice, Federal Bureau of Investigation, A Study of Active Shooter Incidents in the United States Between 2000 and 2013, Active Shooter Incidents in the United States in 2014 and 2015, and Active Shooter Incidents in the United States in 2016 and 2017, retrieved August 10, 2018, from https://www.fbi.gov/about/partnerships/office-of-partner-engagement/active-shooter-resources.


Roughly half of active shooters at education settings from 2000 to 2017 were apprehended by law enforcement. At the elementary and secondary school level, 22 shooters were apprehended by law enforcement, 14 committed suicide, and 1 was killed or wounded by law enforcement (figure S3.5 and table S3.2). At the postsecondary level, 6 shooters were apprehended by law enforcement, 5 committed suicide, and 4 were killed or wounded by law enforcement.


Figure S3.5. Number of active shooters, by shooter outcome on the scene and level of institution: 2000 through 2017

Number of active shooters, by shooter outcome on the scene and level of institution: 2000 through 2017

NOTE: The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) defines an active shooter as “one or more individuals actively engaged in killing or attempting to kill people in a populated area.”
SOURCE: U.S. Department of Justice, Federal Bureau of Investigation, A Study of Active Shooter Incidents in the United States Between 2000 and 2013, Active Shooter Incidents in the United States in 2014 and 2015, and Active Shooter Incidents in the United States in 2016 and 2017, retrieved August 10, 2018, from https://www.fbi.gov/about/partnerships/office-of-partner-engagement/active-shooter-resources.


This spotlight indicator features data on a selected issue of current policy interest. For more information: Tables S3.1, S3.2, and https://www.fbi.gov/about/partnerships/office-of-partner-engagement/active-shooter-resources.


10 The other locations coded for were government, open space, residence, healthcare, and house of worship.
11 At the elementary and secondary school level, the indicator Violent Deaths at School and Away From School reports on the homicides and suicides of students ages 5–18 while at school in comparison to those away from school. Students Carrying Weapons on School Property and Anywhere and Students’ Access to Firearms provides a look at the numbers of public school students involved in firearms incidents at school by state, as well as students’ access to firearms at school and away from school. At the postsecondary level, Criminal Incidents at Postsecondary Institutions provides data on the number of disciplinary actions for and arrests related to illegal weapons possession on campus as well as the number of murders that occurred on postsecondary campuses. Taken together with the data found in this spotlight, these indicators give a more comprehensive picture of the frequency of weapons-related incidents, active shooter incidents, and homicides and suicides that occur in education settings.
12 Includes 1 incident that occurred at a county board of education meeting and 1 incident that occurred at a city school board meeting.
13 Number of casualties excludes active shooters.
14 One shooter was reported to have used "several handguns," which was counted as 3 for the total.