School Violence Down, Survey Says

 

Texans, by and large, would like schools outfitted with metal detectors, the Ten Commandments posted in classrooms and random locker checks, according to a telephone survey of 1,000 adults sponsored by Scripps-Howard. The poll sends a clear signal to students that they should not "mess with Texas."

But, hold on a minute. A national survey performed by the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) and released last week found that schoolhouse violence is actually on a decline.

The findings printed in JAMA's August 4 edition focused on 1991, 1993, 1995 and 1997. "The percentages of students carrying weapons on school property and engaging in physical fights on school property (during '93-'97) were far lower than the percentages of those engaging in these behaviors in general," the authors wrote.

In a year in which a mass murder at Columbine High School left 15 people dead and triggered a rising tide of anti-gun sentiment, it seems ironic that researchers should find that students are behaving less violently than in the past. In a number of states, lawmakers reacted to the Colorado shootings with zero tolerance laws, school dress codes, swift punishment of those who make bomb threats, and the reconsideration of formerly sacrosanct gun rights.

Nancy D. Brener, Ph.D. of Atlanta's Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and her colleagues collected data from 1991 through 1997. Their analysis revealed that the number of high school students in grades 9-12 who have been in fights or have carried a weapon has decreased over the past decade.

In the month prior to the survey, there was a 30 percent drop in the number of students carrying a weapon, such as a gun, knife or club.

Only 36.6 percent of students admit to participating in a fist fight in the year prior to the survey - down from 42.5 percent in 1991. The number of students who took part in a physical fight on school grounds in the 12 months before the survey dropped by nine percent.

The number of students who admitted to carrying a gun during the past month dropped from 7.9 percent in 1993 to 5.9 percent in 1997 - a 25 percent decrease.

Male students were more likely to have carried a gun or to have been involved in a physical altercation on school grounds. The survey showed a marked decrease in physical fights for black and white students, but did not record the same decline among Hispanic youths.

 
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