Ron Astor: New Study Reveals 1 in 5 California Students Have Carried or Been Threatened with a Weapon
At some schools in California, nearly 1 in 5 students say they have either carried a weapon or been injured or threatened with one, according to a new study co-authored by UCLA Social Welfare Professor Ron Avi Astor that examines the presence of weapons in the state’s public middle and high schools and recommends focusing on campus-level conditions that could serve as warning signs for violence.
“Although tragic incidents of shootings in schools are rare and directly affect only a small number of students, tens of thousands of students report bringing weapons to school, and many more see other students in their school carrying weapons,” said Astor, who holds joint appointments at the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs and UCLA School of Education and Information Studies.
The study, co-authored with Rami Benbenishty of Hebrew University of Jerusalem, was published recently in the Journal of School Violence.
Based on surveys of nearly 890,000 California students in grades 7, 9 and 11, the research focuses on all types of weapons — not only guns — and assesses how factors such as the level of crime in a school’s surrounding neighborhood, students’ feelings of belongingness or victimization at school, their relationships with teachers and staff, and their perceptions about whether disciplinary practices are fair can heighten or lower the potential for weapons-carrying and violence.
This holistic or school-wide approach represents a significant departure from previous school-violence studies, which have typically sought to identify risk factors around individual students who might pose a threat, Astor noted.
“A major limitation of current ‘shooter’ studies is that they tend to maintain a narrow focus on individual perpetrators,” the authors write. “Although it is very difficult to detect students who perpetrate school shootings, it is possible to identify schools that have many students who are involved with weapons.”
“It is imperative to develop a monitoring system to identify such schools and channel resources to this vulnerable group of students, educators and parents,” said Astor, who teaches a UCLA undergraduate course on ways to improve school safety. “We must create opportunities to hear their voices and explore local solutions that make their schools safer.”
Fostering a warm, supportive school environment is key to reducing the presence of weapons and creating a truly safe campus, according to the authors, whose previous research has demonstrated that prioritizing a culture of care, funneling more resources to vulnerable schools and elevating the voices of students, teachers and students leads to a drop in the number of weapons at schools.
In this new study, Astor and Benbenishty also focus on the unintended negative consequences of past efforts to deter individual shooters by “hardening” schools with metal detectors, security cameras and armed staff, as well as “active shooter” drills and harsh mandatory punishments that research shows often demonstrated bias against students of color.
These measures, they noted, frequently created fortress-like campuses that greatly diminished students’ well-being, heightened the fear of violence on school grounds and sent more of the nation’s children into the school-to-prison pipeline.
For the full story and for a link to the report, “School- and Student-Level Prevalence and Predictors of Weapon-Related Behaviors and Experiences among Secondary Schools in California,” visit the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs website.
For media coverage of Professor Astor’s report, visit these links: