A recent study led by Boston College School of Social Work Associate Professor Summer Sherburne Hawkins and Economics Department Chair Christopher F. Baum found that public schools located in states with stricter gun laws are safer, a link not previously uncovered.

Christopher Baum

Christopher Baum (Peter Julian)

The research, titled “Gun Laws and School Safety,” and recently published in the Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health, revealed that among the 1.3 million school discipline incidents reported nationally during the 2013-14 academic year, one in 20 was related to weapon possession. However, tougher state gun legislation was associated with teens experiencing fewer threats or gun-related injuries at school and fewer fear-motivated absences, and less likelihood of teens carrying a weapon.

Data were gleaned from more than 900,000 high school students in 45 states who participated in national surveys between 1999-2015, reported Baum, who is a professor of economics and social work.  

“One of the study’s most important findings is that students felt less safe at schools in states with weaker gun laws,” said Baum. “This effect was relevant for the entire study sample, and individually across gender and racial/ethnic categories.”  

Co-author Marco Ghiani Ph.D. ’18 noted that the team’s findings highlight the fact that during the last 20 years, gun control laws were weakened in 17 states, which may result in teens’ increased access to weapons and higher levels of school violence.  

Summer Sherburne Hawkins

Summer Sherburne Hawkins (Peter Julian)

“Overall, weapon carrying was more common among white students compared with black and Hispanic students, while perceived threats were less common among white students compared with other racial/ethnic groups,” said Hawkins. “Stricter gun laws were more strongly associated with lower rates of weapon carrying among male students compared with female students. Black students were more likely to carry weapons at school specifically in response to a strengthening in gun laws, but this may indicate a replacement for a firearm.  

“With the prevalence of weapon threats and fights at school decreasing only slightly, and the percentage of students who miss school on the rise, school safety represents a policy priority across the fields of health and education,” added Hawkins. 

Read the full article, “Gun Laws and School Safety,” on the journal website.

—Phil Gloudemans | University Communications | May 2019