School shootings are a form of gun violence that involves an attack via firearms and takes place at an educational institution, such as a primary school, secondary school, or university. While many school shootings are resolved with zero fatalities, many others result in gun-related deaths, and some are also considered mass shootings because of the number of people injured or killed by the attack. The United States has endured hundreds more school shootings than any other country in recent years.
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 romantic rejection, 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 backed by credible, peer-reviewed science.
On May 24, 2022, 18-year-old gunman Salvador Ramos, who had recently purchased two AR-15-style semi-automatic rifles, walked into the Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas and opened fire. Ramos killed 19 students and two teachers and wounded several other victims (including his own grandmother, whom he shot at their home before going to the school) before he was killed by police.
The Uvalde shooting struck a chord nationwide, with many citizens moved by the youth—most were 8-10 years old—and number of victims (profiled on Uvalde's city website and NPR). The attack reignited debates over the causes of and solutions to gun violence in the United States, with particular attention paid to police procedures and the political right's refusal to pass stricter gun control laws. According to sources, the Uvalde attack was the 27th school shooting of 2022.
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.
In the two decades following the Columbine shooting, the U.S. has experienced at least 12 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:
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 not only gun deaths but firearm-related violence in general, 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.
The notion 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 most school shootings are the work of one or two troubled individuals, some shootings (particularly in the Middle East and Africa) have been coordinated terror attacks.
Also noteworthy is the fact 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.
The United States is not the only North American country that has had to endure school shootings. 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. Mexico has experienced 17 reported school shootings since 2004, each of which resulted in zero to two deaths (in the three shootings that resulted in two deaths, the second death was that of the shooter).
Gun violence as a whole is extremely common in Central American countries. In Honduras, the homicide rate is many times the global average. Because of heavily armed gangs in Honduras, school shootings are so frequent, they often barely register outside its borders. As such, the true number of school shootings in Honduras is unknown, but believed to be high.
In South America, Argentina experienced a school shooting in 2004 and 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.
European countries have had their share of school shootings, although not as frequently as in the United States or Canada. These include eight in Germany since 1913, one in Lithuania (1925), one in Sweden (1961), three since 1967 in the United Kingdom (none after the 1996 massacre), three in Finland since 1989, two in the Netherlands (1999 and 2004), one in Denmark (1994), one in Hungary (2009), two in France (2012 and 2017), one in Estonia (2014), Spain (2015), at least five in Russia since 2014 (including events in May and September 2021), one in Crimea (2018), and one in Poland (2019, no deaths).
Between 1999 and 2011, China endured four school shootings resulting in four deaths, two of which were the perpetrators. Additional school shootings in Asia include one in Taiwan (1962), two in Israel (1974 and 2008), one in Yemen (1997), one in the Philippines (1999), one in Thailand (2003), one in Lebanon (2007), one in India (2007), one in Azerbaijan (2009), and one in 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 are quite infrequent in Oceania. New Zealand experienced a single school shooting in 1923, and Australia has seen only six since 1991. Moreover, only two of Australia's shootings resulted in deaths, one death at La Trobe University and two deaths at Monash University. Australia's most recent school shooting occurred at Modbury High School in Adelaide on May 7, 2012. No one was injured. Australia instituted strict gun control laws after a 1996 mass shooting (which was not a school shooting) in which a gunman walked into a cafe in Port Arthur, Tasmania, and murdered 35 people and wounded another 23.
Though school shootings have been relatively rare in Africa, the continent did experience one school shooting in Nigeria in 2013 and another in Kenya in 2015. However, unlike school shootings in the United States and other politically stable countries, the shooting in Kenya was a terrorist attack that killed 147 people and injured another 79. South Africa has experienced five school shootings since 1994, which resulted in eight deaths in total.
The United States has the most school shootings in the world. 288 school shootings happened in the United States from January 2009 until May 2018.