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48 Oregon students were caught with guns at school last year, data shows – more than double the previous year

Gun found in backpack
Portland Police Bureau/KGW
Gun found in backpack

By Kyle Iboshi, KGW

PORTLAND, Ore. (KGW) — The number of students caught bringing a gun to school in Oregon increased significantly last year, KGW reported this week.

A total of 48 students were disciplined during the 2022-23 school year for possessing a handgun, shotgun or rifle on K-12 campuses, according to statewide data. That’s an increase from 18 cases during 2018-19, the last full school year before pandemic shutdowns.    

Guns showed up in every type of community — urban, suburban and rural. Last year, guns were recovered in 13 school districts including Centennial, Corvallis, Crook County, Glide, Greater Albany, Jefferson County, Medford, North Clackamas, Oregon City, Pendelton, Portland, Reynolds and Salem-Keizer.

Nearly half the gun cases last year involved the state’s largest district; 20 students in Portland Public Schools were disciplined for having a gun, according to state data. A spokesperson for the district said most cases involved high school students, although four incidents were middle school kids. In a few cases more than one student was disciplined for an incident involving a single gun, the district spokesperson explained.

Many of these cases were never publicly reported. In Oregon, juvenile records are protected, and student privacy laws prevent schools from sharing specific details. KGW obtained student discipline records with the Oregon Department of Education through a public records request, although the data does not provide identifiable information about any students or their specific schools.

The data shows that over the past decade, 198 students in Oregon were disciplined for bringing a handgun, shotgun or rifle to a public-school campus. Federal law prohibits guns on K-12 campuses, with exceptions for licensed carriers. Oregon law requires a one-year expulsion for students who bring firearms to school.  

Additionally, the statewide records show 37 students brought other weapons to school last year, including airsoft guns, stun guns and BB guns.

“I suspect this is the tip of the iceberg,” said Kathleen Carlson of the OHSU Gun Violence Prevention Research Center. Carlson believes the numbers reflect a society awash in guns.   

“The leading cause of death for children in this country is firearm injuries,” said Carlson.

The weapons were discovered in backpacks, bags, lockers, cars and pockets, according to police reports and school administrators. Some were brought to school by accident, others to show off. Typically a student who brings a gun doesn’t intend to harm anyone, researchers say — they just don’t feel safe at school or on the way to school.

“What we do know from research is that kids who tend to carry guns, including on school campuses, have experienced or witnessed violence in their communities,” said Carlson.

The growing number of guns seized in Oregon schools mirrors a national trend — a rise in school shootings. These tragedies have prompted many districts to revisit the controversial presence of school resource officers. Some school districts, including Portland, have tested metal detectors or weapon screening systems. In Klamath Falls, schools installed artificial-intelligence-driven technology to detect if someone is openly carrying a gun on school property.

“They can work, but really that’s about mitigation, waiting until the problem comes to your door,” said Courtenay McCarthy, school psychologist with Salem-Keizer Public Schools. “We would rather get ahead of the problem and do some early intervention, some prevention.”

The Salem-Keizer School District pioneered a school safety program more than 20 years ago that focuses on preventing bad things from happening in the first place — like a gun incident.

“We don’t want kids going down that path,” said McCarthy. “We want to get involved as early as possible.”

A team that includes school staff, teachers, coaches, special education, law enforcement and parents work to assess risk and provide support, McCarthy explaind. Students also play a vital role.

“Kids know what’s going on with other kids, so we want to make sure they are reporting when they have concerns,” said McCarthy.

SafeOregon is a statewide school safety tip line. Records show over the past six years, there’s been a significant uptick in the number of tips related to weapons and threats of planned school attacks. While that may be concerning to some, others suggest it’s a sign the system is working. People reported concerns, and most guns were confiscated before anyone fired them.

“It’s a challenging problem but I know if we can get in front of these issues, we can really make a difference in the lives of kids,” said McCarthy.

To report potential threats against students or schools in a confidential or anonymous way, contact SafeOregon. Click to report a tip.

Article Topic Follows: Oregon-Northwest

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