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Member Research & Reports

Member Research & Reports

BU Finds School Shootings Less Likely in States with Background Checks on Gun Purchases

School shootings are less likely in U.S. states with mandatory background checks on gun and ammunition purchases and with higher levels of spending on mental health services and public education, according to a new study led by researchers from Boston University School of Public Health (BUSPH).

The Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Connecticut in 2012, in which 20 children and six staff members were shot dead by a lone gunman, prompted much soul-searching about the possible factors involved, the authors noted, but to date, there has been little in the way of hard evidence to inform these discussions.

In a bid to address this, and in the absence of any official monitoring system, the researchers drew on a systematic analysis of media coverage of school shootings between 2013 and 2015 to see if the frequency of these incidents might be linked to particular state-level factors. These included: the presence or absence of mandatory background checks for all gun and ammunition purchases; the extent of gun ownership; mental health expenditures per capita; spending on public school education (K-12); and the proportion of people living in towns and cities.

The number of school shootings was lower in states with mandatory background checks for gun and ammunition purchases, higher spending on mental health and K-12 education, and in those with a larger proportion of the population living in towns and cities, the research team found.

The study was co-authored by BUSPH Dean Dr. Sandro Galea. Other co-authors were from Columbia University Law School and the department of epidemiology, and the University of Texas Southwestern School of Medicine.