SEATTLE – Students were expelled or suspended from a Washington state public school 45 times last year for bringing a handgun to class, according to new statewide data on weapons in school.
The guns were found in large and small districts, in rural and urban areas. The problem is nothing new for Washington, according to the “Weapons in School Report: 2010-’11 School Year.”
Although state statistics on other weapons – from knives to shotguns – show a downward trend over the past decade, the numbers of handgun incidents have remained steady around 45 to 47 over the past 10 years.
School safety experts warn, however, that these school statistics, and recent incidents including the accidental shooting of a girl in a Bremerton classroom, give school officials just a glimpse of a bigger problem.
Children who are caught with any weapon in school are either expelled or suspended, depending on the circumstances of the situation.
A 9-year-old who brought a gun in his backpack to a Bremerton elementary school in February had no plans to use it or show it to his friends. But the gun accidentally discharged and seriously wounded another student. The boy said he found the gun at his mother’s home and took it for protection because he was planning to run away from home.
The Kitsap County prosecutor has charged the boy’s mother and her boyfriend with felony assault, saying they negligently allowed the boy access to the gun. They have pleaded not guilty.
The incident was a stark reminder for Washington parents and school officials.
“When one accidentally goes off, that’s a vivid reminder that there are likely others,” said Ron Stephens, of the National School Safety Center.
Federal statistics show gun violence in schools has decreased over the past few decades.
Seventeen youths were killed at school during 2009-’10, the most recent year for which nationwide data is available, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. That number is significantly lower than the 34 deaths reported nearly two decades earlier during the 1992-’93 school year.