A school shooting is an attack that involves the use of firearms and takes place at an educational institution, such as a primary school, secondary school, or university. Many school shootings are categorized as mass shootings because of the number of people injured or killed by the attack. The United States Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) defines a mass murder (a classification sometimes applied to mass shootings) as “four or more murdered during an event with no ‘cooling-off period’ between murders.”
Individuals who commit school shootings are often influenced by debilitating factors that may include various forms of abuse, family dysfunction, mental illness, or other psychological problems. Common sources of motivation for shooters can include depression, suicidal thoughts, a feeling of persecution, retaliation against bullying, or a desire for attention or recognition. While sources of entertainment such as films, videogames, and comic books are occasionally accused of being influencers as well, these accusations are rarely, if ever, backed by credible science.
The Columbine shooting and its aftermath
One of the most widely publicized school shootings in history took place at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado, United States. On April 20, 1999, two students opened fire at the school, killing 13 people (12 students and one teacher) and wounding more than 20 others before committing suicide themselves. At the time, the Columbine shooting was the deadliest in U.S. history. It has since been eclipsed.
School shootings in the United States
In the two decades following the Columbine shooting, the U.S. has experienced 11 mass school shootings and hundreds of smaller-scale attacks that have touched every state in the union, with more than 278,000 students experiencing some form of gun violence. John Cohen, a former Department of Homeland Security official, stated that Columbine “absolutely” influenced subsequent shootings. Mass shootings since Columbine include:
- Sandy Hook Elementary School, Newtown, Connecticut — In 2012, a shooter killed 20 first-grade students, six adults, and finally himself.
- Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, Parkland, Florida — In 2018, a shooter killed 17 students and wounded 17 more.
- Virginia Tech, Blacksburg, Virginia — In 2007, a shooter killed 27 students and five faculty members, as well as himself. As of 2021, the Virginia Tech attack is the deadliest school shooting in U.S. history.
School shootings are considered by many to be an epidemic in the United States, as is gun violence in general. According to data from Everytown Research, the United States averaged just over 87 school shootings each year from 2013 to 2021, resulting in an annual average of 28.4 dead and 59.6 wounded. A 2018 CNN feature used slightly tighter criteria and tallied a comparatively lower 288 school shootings in the United States between 2009 and 2018—however, the country with the second-most school shootings during that period, Mexico, experienced only eight shootings during that same time period.
While many Americans advocate for stronger gun control measures that could arguably curb firearm-related violence, many others feel that such restrictions would violate the Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, which guarantees the right to keep and bear arms.
School shootings around the world
The statement that school shootings are a “uniquely American crisis” is difficult to dispute given their alarming frequency in the U.S. compared to the rest of the industrialized world. That said, school shootings have also occurred in many other countries. While attacks in most countries are usually the work of one or two troubled individuals, some shootings (particularly in the Middle East and Africa) have been coordinated terror attacks. Below are the recorded school shootings in different countries around the world.
Note, however, that methods of reporting school shootings, especially shootings that do not result in any fatalities, differ from place to place. As a result, school shootings that were not covered by news outlets (and were therefore left out of global databases that track shootings) may not be reflected here. Also, keep in mind that the information listed here does not include mass shootings that took place outside of school grounds.
School shootings in Australia
Since 1991, Australia has experienced six school shootings. Two of these shootings, La Trobe University and Monash University, had one and two deaths respectively. The other four shootings did not have any deaths. The most recent school shooting in Australia was at Modbury High School in Adelaide on May 7, 2012, which resulted in no deaths and no injuries. Australia instituted strict gun control laws after a 1996 mass shooting (but not a school shooting) in which a gunman walked into a cafe in Port Arthur, Tasmania, and murdered 35 people and wounded another 23.
School shootings in Brazil
Brazil has had five school shootings since 2001, resulting in a total of 30 deaths. The deadliest of these shootings was the Realengo massacre, in which a former student killed 12 students inside the school before killing himself. In contrast, another event, known as the Medaneira School shooting, resulted in zero deaths.
School shootings in Canada
Canada has experienced a total of 19 school shootings between 1884 and 2016. The deadliest of these events was the Ecole Polytechnique massacre in Montreal, which resulted in 15 deaths, including that of the shooter. Several Canadian school shootings have resulted in a single death or no deaths at all.
School shootings in China
Between 1999 and 2011, China endured four school shootings resulting in four deaths, two of which were the perpetrators.
School shootings in Europe
European countries have had their share of school shootings, although not as frequently as in the United States or Canada.
- Germany: eight shootings since 1913
- Lithuania: one in 1925
- Sweden: one in 1961
- United Kingdom: three since 1967 and none after the 1996 massacre
- Finland: three since 1989
- The Netherlands: two, in 1999 and 2004
- Denmark: one in 1994
- Greece: one in 2009
- Norway: one in 2009 (no deaths)
- Hungary: one in 2009
- France: two, one in 2012 and one in 2017
- Estonia: one in 2014
- Spain: one in 2015
- Russia: at least five since 2014, including events in May and September 2021
- Crimea: one in 2018
- Poland: one in 2019 (no deaths)
School shootings in Honduras
Gun violence in Central American countries is extremely common. In Honduras, the homicide rate is many times the global average. Because of heavily armed gangs in Honduras, school shootings “are so common, they are subsumed quickly into the country's news cycle and barely register outside its borders.”. As such, the true number of school shootings in Honduras is unknown, but believed to be high.
School shootings in Mexico
Mexico has experienced 17 reported school shootings since 2004. All of these incidents have resulted in zero to two deaths each. In each of the three shootings that had two deaths, one was the perpetrator.
School shootings in South Africa
South Africa has experienced five school shootings since 1994, resulting in eight deaths in total.
School shootings in Asian countries
Excluding China, several Asian nations have experienced school shootings.
- Taiwan: one in 1962
- Israel: one in 1974 and another in 2008
- Yemen: one in 1997
- Philippines: one in 1999
- Thailand: one in 2003
- Lebanon: one n 2007
- India: one in 2007
- Azerbaijan: one in 2009
- Pakistan: The "Peshawar siege" in 2014 was a Taliban attack that killed 145 (plus the gunmen), making it the deadliest school shooting in Asia
School shootings in other countries
- Argentina: one in 2004
- New Zealand: one in 1923
- Nigeria: one in 2013
- Kenya: one in 2015, a terrorist attack which killed 147 people and injured another 79