America received a sorrowful reminder of its gun problem this past March. Aubrey Hale, 28, shot and killed three students and three adults at the Covenant School in Nashville, Tennessee, before she was slain by police. Law enforcement was struggling to find a motive behind the attack by Hale, who was under care for an emotional disorder. (Also see, the states where mass shootings happen the most and where.)
Some school shooters had demonstrated violent behavior or committed crimes; others had no violent past at all until they attacked. Hale’s weapons of choice were a semi-automatic rifle and a semi-automatic handgun.
To identify the guns used in the deadliest school shootings in U.S. history, 24/7 Wall St. reviewed the list of school shootings in the United States from the K-12 School Shooting Database, produced by the Violence Project, a nonprofit, nonpartisan gun violence research center. Information on the specific guns used and the legality and means with which those guns were obtained came from reports on the events as well as from Mother Jones’ database of mass shootings. The number of victims killed and wounded came from the K-12 School Shooting Database and does not include the perpetrators. It should be noted that this list does not include shootings at colleges or universities.
There have been 380 school shootings since the Columbine High School tragedy in 1999, according to Washington Post data. In 2022, there were 46 school shootings, more than in any year since at least 1999. Seven of the eight deadliest school shootings have occurred in the 21st century. (Here is the number of mass shootings every year since 1982.)
School shooters in these incidents often carried more than one weapon. Semi-automatic rifles have been used in some of the country’s most horrific school shootings, such as the Newtown, Connecticut, shooting. Sales of the AR-15, a lightweight version of the military’s M16, spiked after a 10-year federal ban on assault weapons lapsed in 2004. Some of those guns have been fitted with “bump-fire stocks,” a legal mechanism that allows semi-automatic rifles to fire as rapidly as automatic weapons.
9mm semi-automatic handguns are the nation’s most popular type of firearm and are used by many law enforcement officers. The weapon is light and inexpensive, easy to conceal and handle, and fires quickly.
Editor’s Note: the images in this story are meant to as close as possible approximations for the firearms used in each shooting, but aren’t always the exact type of gun used.
Click here to see the guns used in the 20 worst school shootings in US history.
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