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News / Northwest

More weapons showing up in Washington’s schools

'I wish I could say I was really shocked by this increase, but sadly I’m not that shocked.'

By Grace Deng, Washington State Standard
Published: May 28, 2024, 9:12am

There were more weapons brought into Washington’s schools during the last school year than the year before.

That’s according to a new report from the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction, which found an 11.6% increase in weapons on school grounds in the 2022-2023 school year compared to 2021-2022.

During the 2022-2023 school year, 2,275 weapon incidents were reported by Washington’s public and private schools. Of those, 316 involved possession of a firearm. All of the gun incidents were reported at public schools. Most other reports involved knives, daggers or “other weapons.”

However, the presence of guns specifically increased, as there were 236 incidents involving firearms during the 2021-2022 school year, according to last year’s report from the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction.

“I wish I could say I was really shocked by this increase, but sadly I’m not that shocked,” said Johnny Lupinacci, an associate professor at Washington State University who studies the intersection of schools and social justice.

While national data on the 2022-2023 school year is not yet available, data from 2021-2022 show that, among states, Washington had the 11th highest rate of students bringing firearms to school.

Nationwide, the number of guns showing up in schools is soaring. A Washington Post investigation found 1 in 47 school-age children, or about 1.1 million students, attended a school where at least one gun was found and reported on by the media in the 2022-2023 school year — and the actual number of guns in schools may be much higher.

Washington has enacted some of the most restrictive gun laws in the country and passed three gun control laws just this year. 

Lupinacci praised the state’s strict gun laws and said his “gut reaction” to seeing increasing numbers of guns in schools is to make it even harder to obtain a firearm. He said getting a gun remains just “far too easy,” even in some of the most restrictive jurisdictions.

State law prohibits possession of firearms and other dangerous weapons on school grounds, except for security and law enforcement. The law also requires the expulsion of students found in possession of a firearm anywhere on school grounds, although superintendents can modify expulsions on a case-by-case basis.

Lupinacci said students primarily bring weapons into schools because they feel unsafe and believe “the only way they could be safe is to somehow arm themselves.”

Firearms are the leading cause of death for American children and teens, according to U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data for 2022, analyzed by Everytown for Gun Safety, a group that advocates for stricter gun laws.

Despite the increase in weapons in Washington’s schools, expulsions due to weapon incidents were down 49%. Schools chose to suspend students instead: Compared to the 2021-2022 school year, there was a 12% increase in suspensions in 2022-2023.

Lupinacci said “zero tolerance” policies around weapons in schools are important, particularly with firearms, and praised Washington’s schools for reducing expulsions and increasing suspensions, calling the schools’ response empathetic but firm.

He also said the solution to reducing weapons in schools involves a “larger discussion” about reducing child poverty, increasing school funding and dealing with rising mental health issues among America’s youth.

“Our public school systems can and ought to be that safety net in our communities,” Lupinacci said. “What we see is when we don’t take care of our community, kids experience school in a way where it feels dangerous or unsafe.”

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Washington State Standard is part of States Newsroom, a nonprofit news network supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Washington State Standard maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Bill Lucia for questions: info@washingtonstatestandard.com. Follow Washington State Standard on Facebook and Twitter.

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