Bullied Teens May Be More Likely to Bring Weapons to School

bullied teen

 Elva Etienne / Getty Images

There is nothing more terrifying than sending a child to school with a classmate who may be hiding a weapon. According to research conducted during the 2015-2016 school year, that scenario has played out in the U.S. more than once per school day on average. There were at least 269 incidents in which elementary, middle, and high school students were caught with weapons at school.

A study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that of the 55 million school children in the United States, 5.4%, or nearly 3 million of them, have carried a weapon to school such as a gun, a knife, or a club. In large urban school districts, this figure can vary significantly. For example, the National Association of School Psychologists found that 7.5% of students in Washington, D.C. reported bringing a gun to school, compared to just 2.3% in New York City.

Why Kids Bring Weapons to School

While there are a variety of reasons why a student might bring a gun or other weapon to school. Some kids are bringing these items into classrooms and on school buses to show them off to friends, while others are bringing them in anticipation of a fight or for protection.

Most of the students who toted guns into school brought them from home. This is not surprising given that more than a third of Americans with children under the age of 18 have guns in their homes. Few states require parents to keep guns secured and away from kids.

Kids also lack the ability to see all the risks associated with bringing a gun to school—such as getting expelled, arrested, or accidentally hurting someone. As a result, you can begin to understand how guns wind up at school.

Instability in the home and bullying at school are other factors that lead to kids carrying weapons. According to JAMA Pediatrics, 10% of kids with one or both parents in the military have brought a gun to school in the past. The study’s authors speculate that the instability of military life (such as frequent moves or having parents deployed) along with the disproportionate amount of bullying military kids experience could be factors in their decisions to carry weapons to school.

In fact, bullying plays a much more significant part in weapon-carrying than adults might realize. A recent study found that victims of bullying were twice as likely as non-victims to bring a weapon to school especially if their sense of safety had been violated in some way.

Researchers discovered that three factors were linked to greater odds of carrying a weapon. These included fighting at school, being threatened or injured at school, and skipping school out of fear for safety. Almost 50% of kids who experienced all three scenarios carried a weapon to school. But, if kids were being bullied, but not in fear for their physical safety, there was not an increased risk of carrying a weapon.

Researchers found that teens who skipped school because they feared for their safety were more than three times more likely to carry a weapon that kids not experiencing bullying. Meanwhile, kids who had fights at school were more than five times likelier to carry a weapon, while teens who were threatened or injured were nearly six times more likely to take a weapon to school.

“Students whose sense of safety had been violated or threatened in successively more way ways had a greater propensity to carry weapons to school, with each additional risk factor further compounding this risk,” wrote Tammy B. Pham, BA, a researcher at the Steven and Alexandra Cohen Children’s Medical Center of New York in Lake Success.

“The alarming percentage of students who carry weapons on school property signals that school campuses are still not the optimal, safe learning environments that we want for our youth,” the authors write.

The study's authors recommend that school districts focus their violence prevention resources on those who are most likely ones to bring a weapon to school. “By enhancing the sense of safety among bullied youth, they might no longer feel the need to engage in weapon carrying at school," they say.

Address Bullying

Because bullying victimization is so closely related to the decision to carry a weapon to school, it is important that parents and educators be on the lookout for signs of bullying. They need to be sure that bullying issues are addressed so that they don't escalate to the point where teens feel so defenseless and unsafe at school that they feel weapons are their only option. Here are some ways in which parents and educators can effectively address bullying at school.

Offer Victims Protection 

Because bullying often occurs in the hallways, cafeteria, locker rooms, at recess, or in the bathrooms, be sure your school's employees are monitoring these areas. There should be an adult presence in all your school’s bullying hot spots if you expect to prevent future incidents.

The more difficult your school makes it for children to bully throughout the school day, the less you will have to deal with it on a regular basis. The goal is that you implement bullying prevention practices that work so that the majority of your day is spent focusing on education and not on correcting bullying behaviors.

Address Bullying Issues Immediately

When you take immediate action against bullying, you are showing victims of bullying, as well as any bystanders, that your school does not tolerate bullying. Additionally, it communicates to the bullies, and potential bullies, that the school will take action anytime bullying occurs. When there are consequences for bullying at school, this helps deter bullying in the future.

Meanwhile, failing to implement any type of consequences for poor choices only serves to embolden bullies to take greater risks and to target students more frequently. Be sure you are doing all that you can to reduce the likelihood that bullying will occur at your school.

Provide the Victim With Resources

Have a list of resources readily available for victims of bullying. That way, when a bullying incident does occur, you don’t have to do a lot of research. You can provide students and their parents with ideas and resources. For instance, provide victims and their parents with printouts or a list of websites that you feel will help them in the recovery process.

It’s also a good idea to have a list of community resources available where they can get additional help if they need it. Pointing families in the right direction helps lessen the impact of bullying and promotes healing from what they have experienced.

Confront the Bully Privately

When you sit down with bullies, let them know that you will not tolerate their bullying behavior, and that if you see any sign that this was not an isolated incident, there will be additional repercussions for their actions. Remember, talking with bullies publicly may cause them to lash out at the victim again.

Or, it may be the type of attention they were seeking all along. Do what you can to avoid giving bullies too much attention or increasing their credibility among their peers. Instead, pull them aside for a private conversation.

Implement Discipline for Every Bullying Incident

Discipline and consequences for bullying should always match the severity of the issue. For instance, if students were caught cyberbullying another person, the best course of action might be taking away their access to technology at school for a set period of time.

Just be sure your discipline procedures are significant enough so that kids will be less likely to repeat the behavior again for fear of more severe consequences the next time around. Meanwhile, failing to implement any disciplinary actions only gives bullies the courage to repeat the behavior.

Continue to Monitor the Situation

Sometimes when bullying is caught early, it won’t happen again. But do not automatically assume this is the case. Instead, monitor the bully’s behavior and continue to discipline if necessary. It is also a good idea to check in with the victims. Make sure they are adjusting well and recovering.

Additionally, if bullies still have a bad attitude or are not taking responsibility for their choices, continue to require work in this area. While it does take a lot of energy to address bullying, the effort you put in will be worth it in the end.

A Word From Verywell

Taking steps to address bullying at school will go a long way in improving your effectiveness as an educator. Not only does bullying distract your students from learning, but it also hampers the learning environment, especially if students are anxious about becoming the next target.

Take steps early on in the school year to establish that your school and its educators will not tolerate bullying of any type. When you do, you will have a greater impact on your students than you would if you turn a blind eye to bullying. What's more, your efforts may go a long way in preventing students from carrying weapons into your building.

Was this page helpful?
0 Sources
Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.