Gun violence continues to be an epidemic in the U.S., claiming the lives of more than 41,000 people in 2023 alone. Every single day, 120 Americans are shot to death (including suicides and homicides) and more than 200 are shot and wounded. None of us are safe from firearm-related violence, and that includes our most vulnerable communities. So far, in the first weeks of 2024, there have been at least 20 incidents of gunfire on school grounds, resulting in 7 deaths and 17 injuries nationwide, according to Everytown for Gun Safety.
Gun enthusiasts will argue that there’s simply nothing that can be done to prevent these senseless acts of violence, but one new study is showing how anonymous reporting can reduce fatalities in schools. The study, published in January in the journal Pediatrics, was authored by researchers affiliated with the University of Michigan and Sandy Hook Promise, a national nonprofit org founded and led by family members of the Sandy Hook school shooting in 2012.
As part of their work to reduce gun violence across the country, Sandy Hook Promise operates the Say Something Anonymous Reporting System, an around-the-clock crisis center staffed by trained counselors who review tips submitted by concerned students (either online or via their phone hotline) and notify appropriate responders.
In a review of data from only one southeastern state between 2019 and 2023, researchers found that that the anonymous reporting system “enabled 1,039 confirmed mental health interventions; 109 ‘saves’ where clear evidence of imminent suicide crisis was present and averted; prevented 38 acts of school-violence including weapons recovered on school grounds; and averted 6 confirmed planned school attacks,” according to the report.
Overall, close to 10% of the tips received were related to firearms, which the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says is the leading cause of death among children and adolescents. Tips included planned school attacks, bullying, harassment and intimidation, as well as observing someone with a weapon.
“The urgency of firearm-related tips highlights the need to educate families on firearm violence prevention and ensure support and response protocols for school systems,” the authors noted.
Of course, anonymous reporting can help ease any anxiety or worries a student might have. “Anonymous and confidential reporting options can broaden the appeal of reporting, especially for students who are concerned about being identified and ostracized by their peers after reporting,” according to the US Secret Service National Threat Assessment Center, which studies violence in schools. “Research finds that the fear of being ostracized, or experiencing other forms of retaliation, is a significant barrier to reporting.”
Currently, the Say Something Anonymous Reporting System serves more than 5 million students in sixth through 12th grade across 23 states, while other states use STOPit’s Anonymous Reporting System.
No matter the method, it’s clear that being able to anonymously express concerns can help minimize fears and in overall harm reduction, which is mission critical as gun violence shows no signs of slowing down nationally. Here’s hoping students know every resource available to them, no matter their age or where they live.