High School Students Carrying Weapons

Publication Date:

Mar 08, 2019

Key facts about high school students carrying weapons

  • In 2017, the proportion of students who reported carrying weapons (such as a gun, knife, or club) on at least one occasion in the past 30 days reached a record low of 15.7 percent, a decrease of about a 10 percentage points from the peak of 26 percent in 1991.
  • High school males were noticeably more likely than their female peers to carry a weapon (24 percent and 7 percent, respectively) in 2017.
  • In 2017, non-Hispanic white students were most likely to carry a weapon, followed by Hispanic and non-Hispanic black students (18.1 percent, 12.7 percent, and 10.8 percent, respectively). This pattern held for both males and females.

Trends in high school students carrying weapons

The proportion of students reporting that they carried a weapon in the past 30 days decreased from 26 percent in 1991 to 17 percent in 1999. After peaking at 19 percent in 2005, the percentage has fluctuated only slightly, reaching 16 percent in 2017, the lowest recorded. From 2013 to 2017, there was a decrease in the proportion of students carrying weapons for all tabulated race/ethnicity groups. Non-Hispanic white students were the most likely to carry weapons during this time period, with 18 percent reporting doing so in 2017. Among non-Hispanic white high school students, the proportion who carried a weapon on school property decreased from 21 to 18 percent from 2013 to 2017, while the rate for Hispanic students decreased from 16 to 13 percent, and the rate for non-Hispanic black students decreased from 13 to 11 percent.[1]

Differences by Gender

The percentage of high school males who report carrying a weapon is more than three times greater than that of females (24 and 7 percent, respectively, in 2017; Figure 2). This difference holds for all racial and ethnic subgroups shown, as well as at each grade level (Appendix 1). The prevalence of carrying a weapon, however, has declined among both males and females (by 17 and 4 percentage points, respectively) since 1991 (Appendix 1).

Differences by race and Hispanic origin*

In 2017, among male high school students, non-Hispanic white students were the most likely to report carrying a weapon (29 percent), followed by Hispanic males (18 percent), and non-Hispanic black males (15 percent). Among female high school students, there were no noticeable differences by race/ethnicity, with between 6 and 8 percent reporting in all three groups (Appendix 1).

In the 1990s, non-Hispanic black students were significantly more likely to report carrying weapons than white students (33 versus 25 percent, in 1991, when the gap was greatest). Although the percentage of Hispanic students was similar to that of non-Hispanic white students in 1991, the gap between these groups grew, reaching a peak in 1997. In that year, 23 percent of Hispanic students and 17 percent of white students had carried a weapon in the past 30 days. Since then, however, weapon-carrying among black and Hispanic students has continued to decline, while it has remained steady among white students in recent years (Appendix 1).

* Hispanic students may be of any race. Totals for white and black students in this report do not include Hispanic students.

Differences by grade

In 2017, there were no noticeable differences by grade level in the prevalence of weapon-carrying. Twelfth graders reported the lowest rate (15 percent) and eleventh graders reported the highest rate (17 percent).

State and Local Estimates

2017 estimates of weapon-carrying among high school students (Grades 9-12) are available for select states and cities from the Youth Risk Behavior Survey (YRBS), at https://www.cdc.gov/healthyyouth/data/yrbs/pdf/2017/ss6708.pdf (Table 17)

Data and Appendix

Data source

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2018). High School Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System [data tool]. Retrieved from https://nccd.cdc.gov/youthonline/App/Default.aspx.

Raw data source

Youth Risk Behavior Survey

http://www.cdc.gov/nccdphp/dash/yrbs/index.htm

Appendices

Appendix 1. Percentage of High School Students¹ Who Reported Carrying Weapons², Selected Years, 1991-2017

Background

Definition

Students in grades 9–12 were asked whether they had carried a weapon, such as a gun, knife, or club, on one or more occasions in the 30 days preceding the survey. Estimates do not include youth who were not in school, and therefore are not representative of all youth in this age group.

Students from Oregon, Washington, and Minnesota were not included in the survey in any year. Additionally, students from Colorado, Iowa, Georgia, Kansas, Louisiana, Ohio, Texas, Utah, and Wisconsin were not included in the 2015 survey. Students from Alabama, Georgia, Indiana, Minnesota, Mississippi, Ohio, South Dakota, Washington, and Wyoming were not included in 2017 estimates.

Endnotes

 [1] U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2018). High School Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System [data tool]. Retrieved from https://nccd.cdc.gov/youthonline/App/Default.aspx.

Suggested Citation:

Child Trends Databank. (2019). High school students carrying weapons. Available at: https://www.childtrends.org/?indicators=high-school-students-carrying-weapons