High School Students Carrying Weapons

Publication Date:

Aug 23, 2016


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. Since then, the percentage has not strayed far from the current figure of 16 percent (as of 2015). However, between 2013 and 2015, there was a decrease in the proportion of students carrying weapons for all tabulated race/ethnicity groups. White students remained the most likely to carry weapons during this time period, at 18 percent in 2015. (Figure 1) Among white high school students, the proportion who carried a weapon on school property decreased from six to four percent in the same period, while the rate remained unchanged for Hispanic students and black students, at five and three percent, respectively.[1]

Differences by Gender

High school males are more than three times as likely as females to carry a weapon (24 and 8 percent, respectively, in 2015). This difference holds for all racial and ethnic subgroups, as well as at each grade level. (Figure 2) The prevalence of carrying a weapon, however, has declined significantly among both males and females (by 17 and 3 percentage points, respectively) since 1991. (Appendix 1)

Differences by Race and Hispanic Origin[2]

In 2015, among male high school students, whites were the most likely to carry a weapon (28 percent), followed by Hispanics (20 percent), and blacks (18 percent). Among female high school students, there were no significant racial differences. (Figure 2)

In the 1990s, black students were significantly more likely to carry weapons than were white students (33 versus 25 percent, in 1991, when the gap was greatest). Although the percentage for Hispanic students was similar to that for 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. (Figure 1)

State and Local Estimates

2015 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): see Table 10

Data and Appendix

Data Source

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). (2016). 1991-2015 High School Youth Risk Behavior Survey Data. Accessed on 10/5/2016. Available at http://nccd.cdc.gov/youthonline/.

Raw Data Source

Youth Risk Behavior Survey





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.


[1]Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). (2016). 1991-2015 High School Youth Risk Behavior Survey Data. Accessed on 10/4/2016. Available at http://nccd.cdc.gov/youthonline/.

[2]Hispanics may be any race. Totals for whites and blacks in this report do not include Hispanics.

Suggested Citation:

Child Trends Databank. (2016). High school students carrying weapons. Available at: https://www.childtrends.org/?indicators=high-school-students-carrying-weapons


Last updated: October 2016