Here’s what New York’s school shootings tell us | #schoolshooting

A massacre in Uvalde, Texas, in which an 18-year-old gunman killed 19 elementary school students and two teachers on Tuesday in one of the deadliest school shootings in U.S. history, has brought renewed national and state attention to the issue of gun laws, mental health and school safety. 

New York, which has some of the strictest gun laws in the country, has seen 76 school shooting incidents since 1971, according to data collected by the Advanced Thinking in Homeland Security program at the U.S. Naval Postgraduate School’s Center for Homeland Security and Defense. The program documents a school shooting incident “when a gun is brandished, is fired, or a bullet hits school property for any reason, regardless of the number of victims, time of day, or day of week.”

That includes four New York school shootings this year, the most recent earlier this month on Staten Island. In that case, a 26-year-old man was fatally shot during a fight with two other men near the front door of the school; it was unclear if those involved had any relation to the school.

In February, three school shooting incidents marred high school campuses in Brooklyn, Buffalo and Mount Vernon. All three cases resulted from shots fired at dismissal time.

In one case in East Greenbush in 2004, a 16-year-old brought a shotgun to school, loaded it in a school bathroom and then attempted to shoot a student, but missed. He did shoot and injure one teacher before he was tackled by a school administrator. Now out of prison after 15 years, the shooter, Jon Romano, spoke to police in February and discussed ways law enforcement can look for signs of students in trouble to avoid more school shootings.

In most of these New York school shootings, teenagers are holding the weapons. Where an exact age for the shooter was available, 33 of the perpetrators in the incidents were between 13 and 17 years old, the data shows. Four were 18 years old and eight were 21 years or older.

In New York, people 21 and older can legally possess or purchase a handgun, according to the Giffords Law Center. Twenty other states allow people to buy a handgun beginning at age 18. 

But in New York, individuals can buy a long gun once they reach the age of 18, according to the Giffords Law Center, and they can possess a long gun when they’re 16 or older. Long guns include shotguns and rifles of various types. Only six states set the minimum age to buy a long gun at 21. Two states explicitly allow possession of long guns at ages younger than 16: Minnesota at age 14 and Massachusetts at age 15.

But recent high-profile shootings by 18-year-old gunmen have New York lawmakers reconsidering minimum ages for purchasing certain types of guns.

On Wednesday, following the Texas shooting, Gov. Kathy Hochul called on New York lawmakers to raise the legal age for someone to legally purchase an AR-15 semiautomatic weapon from 18 to 21 in New York. She also left open the door to raising the age to 21 to purchase additional firearms beyond just AR-15s or semiautomatic weapons — which are weapons that fire a round each time the trigger is pulled.

The AR-15, which is a legal civilian version of the military’s fully automatic M-16, is the most popular rifle in the U.S. in terms of sales.

“I don’t want 18-year-olds to have guns, at least not in the state of New York,” Hochul said. 

The shooting in Uvalde, Texas, came on the heels of another mass shooting committed by an 18-year-old white man in Buffalo less than two weeks ago. There, in what police said was a racially motivated attack, the gunman killed 10 Black people in a Tops Friendly Markets grocery store.

In both cases, semi-automatic firearms were used. The shooter in Texas bought two AR-15-style rifles and hundreds of rounds of ammunition in the days following his 18th birthday, shortly before the shooting. In Buffalo, the gunman is believed to have legally purchased an AR-15-style rifle in New York and then modified the magazine allowing more bullets to be fired in rapid succession.

“He used large-capacity magazines — illegal in New York, again, but legal in other states — so he was able to build his own assault weapon using not an assault weapon, (but) a legally compliant rifle in New York,” David Pucino, deputy chief counsel for the Giffords Law Center, said by phone Wednesday. 

In New York, handguns have been the weapons most commonly used in school gun violence incidents, according to data collected by the Naval Postgraduate School. Handguns were used in all the New York school shootings identified by the school since 2010. Rifles were identified in only four cases since 1971.

Definitions of mass shootings vary, but just one of the New York incidents appears to meet the most common definitions of mass shootings, which generally specify four or more people are injured or killed. In total, the 76 incidents produced 97 victims, most of them male students who were wounded. In nearly all the incidents, one or two people were injured or killed.

But in 1974 in Olean, a city in Cattaraugus County, a 17-year-old high school shooter fatally shot three people and injured another 11 using a rifle during a two-hour shooting spree at Olean High School.

Another review of active shooter incidents in educational settings produced by the Federal Bureau of Investigations found 62 incidents nationwide from 2000 to 2019, including one in New York in 2004. That review found that incidents most commonly happened in high school or higher education settings. The shooters in these incidents were overwhelmingly male and most often teenagers.

Outside of school settings, the FBI identified 10 active shooter incidents in New York from 2000 to 2019. In the vast majority of active shooter incidents nationwide, the weapon used by perpetrators was a handgun, according to the FBI.

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