Creating Safe and Drug-Free Schools: An Action Guide - September 1996

A r c h i v e d  I n f o r m a t i o n

Preventing Juvenile Gun Violence in Schools

Since the mid-1970's, homicides by juveniles involving a firearm have increased nearly threefold. In addition, during this same period, the number of juvenile arrests for weapons violations increased 117 percent. When guns are the weapon of choice, youth violence becomes deadly.1

In 1990, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention surveyed a nationally representative sample of 9th- and 12th-grade students about the number of times they had carried a weapon such as a gun, knife, or club during the prior 30 days. One in 20 students indicated he or she had carried a firearm, usually a handgun.2 A number of other surveys confirm an increased propensity among young people to carry guns.3-5

In 1984, the United States saw a dramatic increase in juvenile gun homicide, coinciding with the introduction of crack cocaine into urban communities.4 Studies show that as the use of guns by drug-involved youth increases, other young people obtain guns for their own protection. This cycle of fear or "diffusion" theory is supported by recent research on the "ecology of danger."5 A 1993 Louis Harris poll showed that 35 percent of children ages 6 to 12 fear their lives will be cut short by gun violence,6 and a longitudinal study of 1,500 Pittsburgh boys revealed that their frequency of carrying a concealed weapon increased when they began selling drugs.7

Promising Practices

To effectively address the rising levels of juvenile crime, especially youth gun violence, participants from all community sectors, public and private, are beginning to work collaboratively and comprehensively to reduce the incidence of violence in the schools. A number of approaches have been taken, can be supported, or should be initiated to address the increased access to and use of guns by young people. These practices are listed below as (1) prevention programs, (2) intervention programs, and (3) comprehensive initiatives.

Prevention Programs

The majority of youth gun violence prevention programs involve instruction carried out in schools, community-based organizations, and physicians' offices. They emphasize the prevention of weapon misuse,the risks involved with the possession of a firearm, and the need for conflict resolution and anger management skills. Educational programs often use videotapes to support their presentation of the tragic results of gun violence and may also include firearm safety instructions, public information campaigns, counseling programs, or crisis intervention hotlines. Key elements of a gun violence prevention program may include:

Some examples of prevention practices are:

Classroom Strategies. The Center to Prevent Handgun Violence has developed a school-based curriculum that has been used extensively across the country and has been evaluated by the Education Development Center with positive results. The Straight Talk About Risks (STAR) program at the Center to Prevent Handgun Violence is a comprehensive school-based program designed to reduce gun injuries and deaths with prevention activities for children and their families. Through STAR, students also learn how to make better, safer decisions and resolve conflicts without violence through role playing, goal setting, and the development of leadership skills.

Gun Buy-back Programs. Weapons Watch was organized by the mental health center of the Memphis School District, the Memphis Police Department, and Crime Stoppers. Weapons Watch was implemented to get children involved in ridding their schools of weapons. A hotline was established for students to call anonymously with information about a classmate who brings a weapon to school. Students are rewarded if the information leads to the confiscation of weapons and the arrest of the classmate who brings a weapon on campus.

Public Education Campaigns. Fresno's Youth Violence Prevention Network campaign in California is unique because it directly involves young people in delivering an anti-gun violence message. Previously known as Radio Bilingue, the Network is the result of a collaboration among Chicano Youth Center, House of Hope, Save Our Sons and Daughters, and End Barrio Warfare. Violence prevention activities include developing gun-free zone programs in city parks and neighborhoods, school emergency response and mediation teams, youth conferences, and youth leadership programs.

Intervention Programs

Police and sheriff's departments have been instrumental in supporting gun violence prevention/intervention programs. As part of drug education, public safety, and violence prevention efforts, police officers and sheriffs across the Nation have worked collaboratively with schools to present critical information on gun violence to young people and, simultaneously, to develop more effective and interpersonal relations with young people.

Community Law Enforcement Programs. The Illinois State Police School Security Facilitator Program identifies jurisdictions with concerns about school violence. Representatives from all community programs that play a role in addressing problems of youth crime and violence are invited to attend an intensive 5-day team building and education program. Part of the curriculum deals directly with the interdiction of guns in schools. Teams return to their communities to educate others on youth violence issues and to implement specific strategies for violence reduction. While no short- or long-term evaluation of this program has been implemented, anecdotal information from prior participants indicates some degree of usefulness and success.

Gun Market Disruption and Interception. The Kansas City Weed and Seed program is a joint effort of the U.S. Department of Justice, the U.S. Attorney, and the Kansas City, Kansas, police department. The program focuses police efforts in high-crime neighborhoods on traffic violations, curfew violations, and other infractions of the law. Despite the fact that previous police campaigns have drawn protests of discrimination, the gun intercept program in Kansas City has not. Police have involved community and religious leaders in initial planning, and neighborhoods have made requests for greater police activity.

Diversion and Treatment Programs. In Pima County, Arizona, the Juvenile Diversion Program has set up a firearms prevention course for youngsters who are not hard-core delinquents but who have been referred to juvenile court for firing or carrying a gun, and for young people at risk for being involved with guns. At least one parent is required to attend the monthly sessions. During the course, the assistant prosecutor informs the juveniles and their parents about gun laws. Parents are given instruction on safe gun storage. By agreeing to take the course, the youth do not have their cases adjudicated and are not placed on probation; however, they do acquire a juvenile record.

Gun Courts. A special type of court called a Gun Court has recently been established by Providence, Rhode Island, to focus on gun crimes. All gun crimes are referred to a single judge who processes cases on a fast track. Gun courts have cut the processing time of gun crime cases in half.

Alternative Schools. The Second Chance School in Topeka, Kansas, is a voluntary half-day instructional course for students who have been expelled for possession of weapons or assaulting a staff member. Students engage in studies of math, social sciences, and language skills, participate in some recreational activities, and are required to participate in community service. Depending on the seriousness of the offense, students attend the program for 1 semester or 1 year. To date, 90 percent of the students enrolled have successfully completed the program. The program has been operating for 3 years and has developed partnerships with the juvenile courts, the public schools, the police department, and the recreational department.

Comprehensive Initiatives

In Atlanta, the Center for Injury Control at Emory University is working together with the community, State and local governments, and with Project Pulling America's Cities Together (PACT) to analyze the magnitude, extent, and characteristics of youth firearms violence and to develop a broad-based strategy for addressing the problem. The planned intervention includes a three-part strategy: (1) to reduce the demand for firearms through a comprehensive community education program; (2) to reduce supply by promoting safe storage of firearms and by increasing law enforcement efforts to interdict the illegal gun market; and (3) to provide aggressive rehabilitation to decrease recidivism among juvenile gun offenders.

In Dade County, Florida, the Youth Crime Watch program, mandated for all schools by the Miami school board, was created in 1984 to extend the neighborhood watch concept to schools. The Gun Safety Awareness Program, a districtwide effort, began in November 1988. In addition to this comprehensive curriculum, the school board declares a week in November as Gun Safety Awareness Week. The Gun Safety Awareness Program targets kindergarten through 12th grade students and their parents, examining causes of handgun violence and teaching the consequences of being arrested. The curriculum is supplemented by area Youth Crime Watches, school resource officers, and police officers. Parents attend training workshops on handgun safety awareness. Metal detectors are used unannounced at selected schools, and students caught with guns are referred to juvenile or adult court and recommended for expulsion and assignment to an alternative school. Awareness levels among youth and parents about the need to prevent handgun violence have increased in Dade County as a result of this comprehensive program.

State Legislation

In May 1995, the State of Texas enacted legislation that would both remove students who bring guns to school and who commit other serious offenses from their regular school and provide a safety net for those youth so they are not on the streets. Each school, in cooperation with the juvenile board of each county, must adopt a student code of conduct and provide an alternative education program. When a student is expelled, the school must notify juvenile court. Juvenile boards and schools establish what support services are to be given to these expelled youth. In counties where the population exceeds 125,000, the juvenile board must offer a juvenile justice alternative education program. School districts and local juvenile boards meet regularly to coordinate efforts. For more information, contact the Texas Juvenile Probation Commission at 512-912-2404.

Federal Legislation

In August 1994, the Youth Handgun Safety Act (Title XI, Subtitle B) (P.L. 103 322) was passed as part of the Omnibus Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act. It prohibits the possession, sale, or transfer of a handgun or ammunition to a juvenile. The law includes a number of exceptions, such as farming, hunting, and other specified uses. The Gun-Free Schools Act (P.L. 103 382) (GFSA), enacted in October 1994, requires that local educational agencies implement a policy "requiring referral to the criminal justice or juvenile delinquency system of any student who brings a firearm or weapon to a school served by such agency." Under the Gun-Free Schools Act, each State receiving assistance under the Elementary and Secondary Education Act.(ESEA) must have a law requiring expulsion from school, for a period of not less than 1 year, of any student who brings a firearm to school. The local chief administering officer may modify the expulsion requirement on a case-by-case basis.

Even though reducing youth gun violence is a Federal priority, the primary responsibility is on the State and local level. The Federal role must be to encourage and assist communities by providing support based on sound information gathered nationally on effective approaches to intervention and prevention.

Frequently Asked Questions

What entities are affected by the provisions of the Gun-Free Schools Act (GFSA)?

Each State, as well as its State educational agency and local educational agencies, has responsibilities under the GFSA.

Are private schools subject to the requirements of the Gun-Free Schools Act?

Private schools are not subject to the provisions of the GFSA, but private school students who participate in Local Educational Agency (LEA) programs or activities are subject to the 1-year expulsion requirement to the extent that such students are under the supervision and control of the LEA as part of their participation in the LEA's programs. For example, a private school student who is enrolled in a Federal program, such as Title I, is subject to a 1-year expulsion, but only from Federal program participation, not a 1-year expulsion from the private school. Of course, nothing .prohibits a private school from imposing a similar expulsion from the private school on a student who brings a weapon to school.

Does the Gun-Free Schools Act's 1-year expulsion requirement preclude any due process proceedings?

No. Students facing expulsion from school are entitled under the U.S. Constitution and most State constitutions to the due process protection of notice and an opportunity to be heard. If, after due process has been accorded, a student is found to have brought a weapon to school, the GFSA requires an expulsion of not less than 1 year (subject to the case-by-case exception discussed below).

What does the Gun-Free Schools Act require of States?

The GFSA requires that each State receiving Federal funds under the ESEA must, by October 20, 1995, (1) have in effect a State law requiring LEA's to expel from school for not less than 1 year a student who is determined to have brought a weapon to school; (2) have in effect a State law allowing the LEA's chief administering officer to modify the expulsion requirement on a case-by-case basis; and (3) report to the Secretary on an annual basis concerning information submitted by LEA's to State Educational Agencies (SEAs). SEA's must also ensure that no ESEA funds are made available to an LEA that does not have a referral policy consistent with Section 14602.

1-year Expulsion Requirement

Each State's law must require LEA's to comply with a 1-year expulsion requirement; that is, subject to the exception discussed below, any student who brings a weapon to school must be expelled for not less than 1 year.

Case-by-Case Exception

Each State's law must allow the chief administering officer of an LEA to modify the 1-year expulsion requirement on a case-by-case basis.

Annual Reporting

Each State must report annually on LEA compliance with the 1-year expulsion requirement and on expulsions imposed under the State law, including the number of stu-dents expelled in each LEA and the types of weapons involved.

What does the Gun-Free Schools Act require of LEA's?

The GFSA requires that LEA's (1) comply with the State law requiring the 1-year expulsion; (2) provide an assurance of compliance to the SEA; (3) provide descriptive information to the SEA concerning the LEA's expulsions; and (4) adopt a referral policy for students who bring weapons to school.

1-year Expulsion Requirement

LEA's must comply with the State law requiring a 1-year expulsion; that is, subject to the case-by-case exception, any student who brings a weapon to school must be expelled for not less than 1 year.

LEA Assurance

An LEA must include in its application to the State educational agency for ESEA assistance an assurance that the LEA is in compliance with the State law requiring the 1-year expulsion.

Descriptive Report to SEA

An LEA must include in its application for ESEA assistance a description of the circumstances surrounding expulsions imposed under the 1-year expulsion requirement, including:

  1. Name of the school concerned.
  2. Number of students expelled from the school.
  3. Type of weapons concerned.
Referral Policy

LEA's must also implement a policy requiring referral to the criminal justice or juvenile delinquency system of any student who brings a weapon to school.

When must an LEA implement its referral policy?

LEA's must take immediate action to implement a policy requiring referral to the criminal justice or juvenile delinquency system of any student who brings a weapon to school. The GFSA directs that no ESEA funds shall be made available to an LEA unless that LEA has the required referral policy.

When must an LEA submit the required assurance?

In its first application to the State educational agency for ESEA funds after the date that the State enacts and makes effective the required 1-year expulsion legislation, the LEA must include an assurance that the LEA is in compliance with the State law.

What is the role of the SEA in determining whether an LEA is in compliance with the Gun-Free Schools Act?

The GFSA requires States to report to the Secretary on an annual basis concerning LEA compliance. Therefore, before awarding any ESEA funds to an LEA, the SEA must ensure that the LEA has (1) implemented a policy requiring referral to the criminal justice or juvenile delinquency system of any student who brings a weapon to school; and (2) included in its application for ESEA funds the assurance and other information required by the GFSA. SEA's must ensure that the LEA application contains: (1) An assurance that the LEA is in compliance with the State law requiring the 1-year expulsion; and (2) A description of the circumstances surrounding expulsions imposed under the 1-year expulsion requirement, including:
  1. the name of the school concerned.
  2. the number of students expelled from the school.
  3. the type of weapons concerned.

Who is an LEA's "chief administering officer"?

The term "chief administering officer" is not defined by the GFSA. Each LEA should determine, using its own legal framework, which chief operating officer or authority (e.g., Superintendent, Board, etc.) has the power to modify the expulsion requirement on a case-by-case basis.

Can any individual or entity other than the LEA's "chief administering officer" modify the 1-year expulsion requirement on a case-by-case basis?

No. However, the chief administering officer may allow another individual or entity to carry out preliminary information gathering functions, and prepare a recommendation for the chief administering officer.

Is it permissible for an LEA to use the case-by-case exception to avoid compliance with the 1-year expulsion requirement?

No, this exception may not be used to avoid overall compliance with the 1-year expulsion requirement.

How is the term "weapon" defined?

For the purposes of the GFSA, a "weapon" means a firearm as defined in Section 921 of Title 18 of the United States Code. According to Section 921, the following are included within the definition:

According to Section 921, antique firearms are not included in the definition. In addition, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms advises that Class-C common fireworks are not included in the definition of "weapon." For additional information about whether a particular weapon is a "firearm" under this definition, contact the Safe and Drug-Free Schools Program at 202-260-3954 for referral to the nearest Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms field office.

Does the Gun-Free Schools Act preclude classes such as hunting or military education, or activities such as before- or afterschool hunting, or rifle clubs, which may involve the handling or use of weapons?

No. Although individual school districts may choose to prohibit firearms altogether, the Secretary does not believe that Congress intended the GFSA to preclude, in all circumstances, school-sponsored or authorized classes and activities that might involve the handling or use of firearms by students. The Secretary interprets the GFSA to allow local school districts to permit firearms at school when students are participating in school-sponsored or authorized activities that involve firearms. Similarly, based on the legislative history, the Secretary interprets the GFSA not to forbid school districts from allowing firearms at school when students intend to use firearms solely for before- or afterschool hunting purposes, providing the school district's determination to permit firearms is made and disseminated in advance, as part of LEA policy, and is consistent with the intent and purposes of the GFSA to prevent violence and create an environment conducive to learning. For example, if a local school district approves an extracurricular program such as a rifle club or allows students to bring firearms solely for before- or after-school hunting, the activities would not violate the GFSA if the school district:

If any firearms are to be allowed for these limited purposes, local school districts are cautioned to consider all applicable Federal, State, and local laws pertaining to the possession of firearms. In particular, school districts should be aware that Federal and some State laws prohibiting juveniles from possessing handguns may be applicable. The Secretary also encourages school districts that permit students to bring firearms to school for these limited purposes to adopt appropriate safeguards to ensure student safety, consistent with the purposes of the GFSA.

Are knives considered weapons under the Gun-Free Schools Act?

No, for the purposes of the GFSA, the definition of weapon does not include knives. State legislation, an SEA, or an LEA may, however, decide to broaden its own definition of weapon to include knives.

What is meant by the term "expulsion"?

The term "expulsion" is not defined by the GFSA; however, at a minimum, expulsion means removal from the student's regular program. Expulsion does not mean merely moving a student from a regular program in one school to a regular program in another school. Care should be taken by local officials to ensure that a student who is determined to have brought a firearm to school is effectively removed from that setting.

Is a State, SEA, or LEA required to provide alternative educational services to students who have been expelled for bringing a weapon to school?

The GFSA neither requires nor prohibits the provision of alternative educational services to students who have been expelled. Other Federal, State, or local laws may, however, require that students receive alternative educational services in certain circumstances.

What is an "alternative setting" for the provision of educational services to an expelled student?

An alternative setting is one that is clearly distinguishable from the student's regular school placement.

Is Federal funding available to provide alternative educational services?

Yes, formula grants awarded under the Safe and Drug-Free Schools and Communities Act may be used for alternative educational services. In addition, other Federal funds may be available for alternative educational services, consistent with each program's statutory and regulatory requirements.

Do the requirements of the Gun-Free Schools Act conflict with requirements that apply to students with disabilities?

No. Compliance with the GFSA may be achieved consistently with the requirements that apply to students with disabilities, so long as discipline of such students is deter-mined on a case-by-case basis in accordance with the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and Section 504. The Department intends to issue separate, more detailed guidance on discipline of students with disabilities, which will include clarification of the implementation of the GFSA consistent with IDEA and Section 504.

Is it permissible to expel a student for a "school year" rather than a year?

No. The statute explicitly states that expulsion shall be for a period of not less than 1 year.

Does the expulsion requirement apply only to violations occurring in the school building?

No. The 1-year expulsion requirement applies to students who bring weapons to any setting that is under the control and supervision of the LEA.

Research and Evaluation

While there are few conclusive evaluations of youth gun violence prevention programs, because so many are new, a growing body of research identifies the circumstances surrounding the incidence of youth gun violence, providing guidance for prevention and intervention programs.

Effective programs should address young people's access to, carrying of, and use of guns. Research suggests that targeting the source of guns and drug dealing, increasing young people's faith in law enforcement and school administrators, teaching conflict resolution skills, and encouraging youth to develop positive attitudes about themselves and their peers may assist in creating a safer, violence-free school environment.


Safe and Drug-Free Schools Program
U.S. Department of Education
600 Independence Avenue, SW.
Washington, D.C. 20202-6123

The U.S. Department of Justice is engaged in a number of efforts to address the problem of youth gun violence, from grant programs to support linkages between community-based youth gun violence reduction strategies and law enforcement strategies; from drafting a model juvenile handgun law for adoption by States and U.S. territories to disseminating documents on youth gun research, programs, organizations, and program implementation. For more information about these activities, contact the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP) at 202-307-5911. For a copy of OJJDP's Reducing Youth Gun Violence: A Summary of Programs and Initiatives, contact the Juvenile Justice Clearinghouse (JJC) at 800-638-5726. On August 9, 1996, OJJDP sponsored a satellite teleconference to assist communities in developing strategies to reduce youth gun violence. The broadcast described promising approaches to youth gun violence prevention and intervention. For a videotape copy of this program entitled Reducing Youth Gun Violence, contact JJC.


  1. American Psychological Association. 1993. Violence and Youth: Psychology's Response. Washington, D.C.

  2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 1991. Weapon-Carrying Among High School Students: United States, 1990. Morbidity and Mortality Report 40(40):681-684.

  3. Webster, D.W., P.S. Gainer, and H.R. Champion. 1993 (November). Weapon-Carrying Among Inner-City Junior High School Students: Defensive Behavior vs. Aggressive Delinquency. American Journal of Public Health 83(11):1604-1608.

  4. A Survey of Experiences, Perceptions, and apprehensions About Guns among Young People in America. 1993. New York: Louis Harris and Associates, Inc. And LH Research, Inc.

  5. Allen-Hagen, B., M. Sickmond, and H. Snyder. 1994 (November). Juveniles and Violence: Juvenile Offending and Victimization. Fact Sheet #19. Washington, D.C.: Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency prevention, U.S. Department of Justice.

  6. Coordinating Council on Juvenile Justice and delinquency Prevention. 1996 (March). Combating Violence and Delinquency: The National Juvenile Justice Action Plan. Washington, D.C.: Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, U.S. Department of Justice, p.34.

  7. Blumstein, A. 1994. Youth, Violence, Guns, and the Illicit-Drug Industry. Pittsburgh, PA.: Carnegie Mellon University.

  8. Louis Harris and associates, Inc. 1993.

  9. Van Kammen, W. and R. Loeber. 1994. Delinquency, Drug Use and the Onset of Adolescent Drug Dealing. Pittsburgh, PA.: University of Pittsburgh.

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