US states that adopt stricter gun laws have safer schools, according to a new study.
And teenagers are less likely to carry a weapon at any location in those states, suggest the findings published in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health.
Strengthening gun laws at state level was associated with teenagers being less likely to report being threatened or injured with a weapon at school, miss at least one day of school due to feeling unsafe, or to carry a weapon at any location.
Among 1.3 million discipline incidents reported in US public schools during the 2013-2014 school year, the researchers said that one in 20 were related to weapon possession.
Previous studies have examined the effect of youth-orientated gun laws on non-fatal injuries, suicide rates, deaths from unintentional shootings and firearm murders among teenagers.
But no conclusive evidence was found and little was known on the link between state-level gun laws and school safety until now.
The research team looked at the associations of stricter gun laws with students’ weapon carrying and their perception of school safety.
They used figures from the Youth Risk Behaviours Surveys (YRBS) conducted between 1999 and 2015, which included information on 926,639 teenagers across 45 states.
Students reported on weapon carrying at school, the number of times they experienced weapon threats or injuries at school, the number of school days missed due to feeling unsafe, and weapon carrying at any location.
For each state and year, 133 gun laws were combined into an index of gun control strength, with higher scores corresponding to a stricter gun law environment.
During the study period, many states toughened their bans of high-risk guns, and introduced laws preventing people with a history of domestic violence from owning or buying guns.
But 20 states allowed the use of a gun for self-defence without duty to retreat.
Stronger gun control – a 15-point increase in the score – was associated with a 0.8 per cent decrease in the probability of being threatened or injured with a weapon at school, a 1.9 per cen decrease in the probability of carrying a weapon at any location and a 1.1 per cent decrease in the probability of missing school due to feeling unsafe.
Study co-author Professor Summer Sherburne Hawkins, of Boston College School of Social Work (BCSSW), said: “Overall, weapon carrying was more common among white students, compared with black and Hispanic students, while perceived threats were less common among white students compared with all other racial groups.
“And stricter gun laws were more strongly associated with lower rates of weapon carrying among male students compared with female students.
“Black students were more likely to carry weapons at school specifically in response to a strengthening in gun laws, but this may indicate a replacement for a firearm.”
The researchers said their findings highlight that over the last two decades, 17 states experienced a weakening of gun control laws, which may increase teenagers’ access to guns and increase levels of violence in schools.
Prof Hawkins added: “With the prevalence of weapon threats and fights at school decreasing only slightly, and the percentage of students who miss school on the rise, school safety represents a policy priority across the fields of health and education.”