Gun violence at schools hasn't ended since a lone gunman murdered 20 children and six adults and then killed himself at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., almost two years ago, stirring a national debate about gun control.
Almost 100 school shootings have occurred across the country since Sandy Hook, and Georgia and Tennessee are at the top of a list of states with the most such incidents, according to a report published by the advocacy group Everytown for Gun Safety. The group is funded in part a by $50 million donation from New York City's former Mayor Michael Bloomberg, a gun control advocate who's worth about $35 billion.
Still, the Chattanooga region has avoided campus gun violence, officials say.
"I don't know of a school shooting in my 27 years," said Lee McDade, the assistant superintendent at the Hamilton County Department of Education who is in charge of school discipline.
With 12 shootings since Dec. 15, 2012, Georgia has had more school shootings during the period than any other state. Tennessee, with eight shootings at schools in the same time frame, is tied for second with Florida. The 95 shootings nationally over a two-year period were peppered across 33 states, the group's analysis showed. Fifty-two occurred on kindergarten through 12th-grade campuses and 48 were at colleges or universities.
The Tennessee shootings, which were in the central and western parts of the state, resulted in two deaths, the report said. Georgia's shootings, around Atlanta, Augusta and Savannah, also resulted in two deaths. Nine of Georgia's shooting were at colleges or universities and three were at K-12 schools, according to the report. In Tennessee, four were at colleges and universities, and three were at K-12 schools.
Lizzie Ulmer, a spokesperson for Everytown for Gun Safety, said two-thirds of the shooters got their guns from home. Adam Lanza, the mentally troubled 20-year-old shooter in the Sandy Hook massacre, used his mother's rifle, which was not locked away, in the mass shooting.
"Safe storage of firearms is huge when it comes to this issue," Ulmer said.
This summer, the National Rifle Association questioned the findings of Everytown for Gun Safety.
"The current list includes crimes, some involving gangs, that simply happened to take place on or near school grounds, incidents where no one was injured; suicides; accidental discharges; at least one victim who may have been shot off-site and stumbled onto school grounds; defensive force; and even an off-campus crime spree that ended with police shooting the perpetrator after he ran onto the grounds of a college," the NRA said in a statement in June.
In the wake of the Sandy Hook shooting, which was the second deadliest act by a single shooter in U.S. history, there was renewed debate across the country about gun control. Days after the shooting, President Barack Obama said the issue would be prioritized in his second term, and in January 2013 he signed 23 executive orders on gun control and asked Congress to pass laws that would require background checks on all gun sales, restore a ban on military-style assault weapons, ban gun magazines with capacities of more than 10 rounds and create harsher penalties on illegal gun sales and illegal possession.
New York, Connecticut and Maryland strengthened their gun restrictions, but several other states, including Tennessee and Georgia, actually loosened their gun control laws after Sandy Hook. Both Georgia and Tennessee passed laws that allow teachers to be armed, drawing praise from gun-rights advocates.
In Tennessee, gun owners with concealed-carry permits are allowed to keep their guns in their vehicles in public or private parking lots. School faculty and staff are allowed to carry guns at school if they have a concealed-carry permit, have written authorization from the director of schools, have completed 40 hours of coursework in training approved by the school district and use only frangible bullets, according to a study by the Council of State Governments.
This year a new Georgia law made it legal for gun owners with permits to take their guns almost anywhere, including schools. However, Georgia school districts had not opted to arm teachers, according to a June Associated Press report. And Tennessee schools haven't either, said J.C. Bowman, executive director of the Professional Educators of Tennessee.
In the Chattanooga region, guns at school haven't been much of an issue, officials say. To ensure security, Hamilton County schools employ 26 school resource officers across 24 schools, and officials recently proposed a $1.9 million project to install security cameras in 64 schools that don't have them or need upgrades.
"This year and last year, we had no real weapons found," McDade said of the district's middle and high schools. "Last year, we had three [air-powered] guns. This year, so far, we've had three BB guns."
But in the fall of last year a second-grader at Woodmore Elementary School was caught carrying a gun to school. No one was injured, but the school was placed on lockdown and the 7-year-old student was suspended.
Catoosa County Schools, headquartered in Ringgold, Ga., has had school resource officers stationed at all of its middle and high schools for at least the last decade, school district spokeswoman Marissa Brower said, noting that the district is also working to install security cameras in all of its elementary schools by August.
Public opinion over gun rights has waxed and waned.
In a 2000 Pew Research Center survey, 29 percent chose gun rights over gun control, The Associated Press reported this week, and in a 2013 survey conducted a month after the Newtown shooting, 45 percent favored gun rights.
In another Pew survey released this week, a majority of Americans say it's more important to protect the right to own guns than for the government to limit access to firearms, according to the AP.
The center said in a statement that it was the first time in two decades of its surveys on attitudes about firearms that a majority of Americans have expressed more support for gun ownership rights than for gun control.
Fifty-two percent of respondents said it was more important to protect gun ownership rights, while 46 percent said the priority should be controlled access to firearms.
"To some extent, this is the continuation of a trend," said Jocelyn Kiley, associate director for research at the Pew Research Center. "It may be that Newtown stunted that trend to some extent."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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