Community members gather for a vigil at Fairview High School in Boulder honoring 10 people who were killed during a mass shooting in Boulder on March 22, 2021. (Carl Payne for Colorado Newsline)
A bill introduced by Sen. Michael Bennet of Colorado seeks to create a federally-recognized definition of “school shooting” to establish a consistent data system for policymakers.
“Colorado is no stranger to the tragedy of mass shootings at our schools,” the Democratic senator said in a statement. “Our kids are living in the shadow of gun violence every day, and they are counting on us to take action. This bill would provide the data necessary to help us understand the full scale of this crisis and inform the action we desperately need to end gun violence in and around our schools.”
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The School Shooting Safety and Preparedness Act would create a standard definition of a school shooting, which does not currently exist in federal law. Instead, lawmakers rely on media reports of shootings, which can be inconsistent in definition.
The bill would define a school shooting as an incident where at least one person is injured or killed by a firearm on school grounds while they were attending or traveling to class or a school-sponsored event, regardless of whether that incident happened during school hours. It would not include an accidental shooting.
There were 202 “incidents of gunfire” on school grounds in 2021, according to Everytown for Gun Safety, which began tracking data in 2013. That includes four incidents in Colorado, two of which resulted in injury and one that resulted in a death. The organization tracks all incidents, even if they occur outside of school hours.
The legislation would also direct the Department of Education, in cooperation with the Department of Justice and Health and Human Services, to produce annual reports on school shootings that include fatalities, types of firearms used, shooter motivation and demographics of the shooter, victims and survivors. The department would collect data on safety and prevention protocols in place at a school that experiences a shooting.
Federal research on gun research was limited for almost two decades due to the Dickey Amendment, but in 2019 Congress began allocating funds for research and data collection on gun violence. The bill does not specifically address funding for the annual report.
Bennet’s bill is companion legislation to a House bill that Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Fla., introduced in September. The House Committee on Education and Labor reported it favorably to the chamber on May 6.
Bennet said he plans to continue working to pass legislation to “require universal background checks, limit the size of magazines, and address our country’s mental health crisis.”
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