An Associated Press and USA Today Network analysis of Gun Violence Archive data—gathered from media reports and police press releases, and covering a 3½-year period through June of this year—reveals that aside from Chicago, smaller cities lead the country in the rate of shootings among people younger than 18.
While most of the violence occurs off-campus, students nonetheless are affected. They can be injured or killed walking to and from school, waiting for the school bus, attending sporting events, sitting outside doing their homework—or just thinking about what may lie around the corner.
Of the 10 cities with the highest rates of teenage shootings, most have populations of fewer than 250,000 and were nearly all similar in size. Among them are Savannah, Ga.; Trenton, N.J.; Syracuse, N.Y., Fort Myers, Fla.; and Richmond, Va. Chicago is the lone large-population city high on the list.
Several other smaller and mid-sized cities also showed high levels of teenage gun violence, but the rates began to level out after the top six.
Experts and officials cite such contributing factors as:
• Poverty and a sense of hopelessness in the most violent neighborhoods. Syracuse, a university town that once cranked out air conditioners and televisions, now has a poverty rate of 35 percent.
• Deep divisions. While Savannah’s antebellum mansions, gnarled live oaks, and marble monuments to war heroes drew more than 13 million visitors last year, away from the picture-postcard oasis of southern charm, the scenery quickly shifts to decaying neighborhoods, abject poverty, and deadly violence.
• Size. In tightly packed neighborhoods, insults and perceived insults ricochet like shots in an echo chamber. One shooting inevitably leads to speculation about who will be targeted next.
• Social media. It can accelerate the threats, and the danger. Teenagers whose brains are years from fully maturing are roaming the streets with a gun in one pocket and a smartphone in the other.
In Wilmington, which has the highest rate, data show that roughly 3 out of every 1,000 adolescents are injured or killed annually from gun violence. That is almost twice the rate reported from Chicago and just over nine times the national average as reported for 2015 by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The news organizations sought to measure teenage gun violence in America’s cities because it is something the federal government does not track on a regular and comprehensive basis.
A version of this article appeared in the September 13, 2017 edition of Education Week as Student Well-Being