Economic insecurity and the rise in gun violence at US schools

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Abstract

Frequent school shootings are a unique US phenomenon that has defied understanding1,2. Uncovering the aetiology of this problem is hampered by the lack of an established dataset3,4. Here we assemble a carefully curated dataset for the period 1990–2013 that is built upon an exhaustive review of existing data and original sources. Using this dataset, we find that the rate of gun violence is time-dependent and that this rate is heightened from 2007 to 2013. We further find that periods of increased shooting rates are significantly correlated with increases in the unemployment rate across different geographic aggregation levels (national, regional and city). Consistent with the hypothesis that increasing uncertainty in the school-to-work transition contributes to school shootings, we find that multiple indicators of economic distress significantly correlate with increases in the rate of gun violence when events at both K12 and post-secondary schools are considered.

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Figure 1: Comparison of annual shooting event counts in school-associated datasets for 1990–2013.
Figure 2: Breakdown of urbanity and event type in the consensus dataset.
Figure 3: The rate of school shootings is time-dependent and correlated with increasing unemployment abovenormallevels.
Figure 4: Elevated unemployment is correlated with an increased rate of school shootings at the regional level.
Figure 5: Elevated unemployment is significantly correlated with an increased rate of school shootings in the most active cities.
Figure 6: A broad range of economic indicators significantly correlate to gun violence in post-secondary and all schools.

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Acknowledgements

We would like to thank D. Figlio and B. Carruthers for their thoughtful consideration and feedback on an early version of this work. A.J.H. would like to acknowledge financial support from the Northwestern University Presidential Fellowship. The funder had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish or preparation of the manuscript.

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A.R.P., J.H. and L.A.N.A. developed the research question. A.R.P., A.L.J., A.J., K.A. and A.J.H. collected, validated and annotated the data. A.R.P. and A.L.J. conducted the initial analyses. A.R.P. conducted the primary analyses and supporting analyses. A.R.P. and L.A.N.A. wrote the manuscript. A.R.P., J.H., A.J.H. and L.A.N.A. edited the manuscript.

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Correspondence to L. A. N. Amaral.

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The authors declare no competing interests.

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Supplementary Methods, Supplementary Results, Supplementary Figures 1–9, Supplementary Tables 1–27, Supplementary Reference (PDF 385 kb)

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Pah, A., Hagan, J., Jennings, A. et al. Economic insecurity and the rise in gun violence at US schools. Nat Hum Behav 1, 0040 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41562-016-0040

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