While the media may focus intently on mass casualty school shootings, the typical school weapons assault bears little resemblance to these catastrophic and tragic incidents. And while it is important for us to work diligently to try to prevent and prepare for mass casualty school shootings, we must also work to address the far more common forms of school violence. Leading school violence experts recognize that the majority of school weapons assaults do not involve fatalities and do not result in mass casualties. In fact, the majority of school violence incidents involving weapons are carried out with edged weapons and blunt objects rather than with guns. In fact, most of the school weapons attacks we have worked involve box cutters, razor blades, and relatively small knives.
Evaluating hundreds of these incidents reveals some noticeable and important patterns. For example, we have noted that the most common denominator for school weapons assaults is the common schoolyard fight. While the incidents are typically not mass casualty events reported in the national news, most school violence incidents involving weapons occur just before, during or immediately after a fight. One means to reduce the chances that a school violence incident involving weapons will occur is to work to reduce the number of fights at schools and school events. If twenty-five fights per year occur at a middle school, the chances that a school violence incident involving a gun, knife, or other weapon will occur increase. If staff at the school can reduce the number of fights by 80%, the chances of weapons being used in a school violence incident decline markedly.
We feel that it is also very important to remember the negative effect of fights on school climate and culture. Fights degrade the learning environment by causing distraction and tying up considerable staff time. While no single strategy will eliminate the threat of school violence, the reduction of triggering behaviors such as fights is one effective part of a comprehensive approach to school violence prevention.