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Handguns often weapon of choice in school shootings

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florida state shooting

Police crime scene tape blocks Strozier Library after a shooting on the Florida State University campus in Tallahassee, Fla.

Credit: Don Juan Moore/Associated Press

The shooting inside a Florida State University library last week was at least the 42nd school shooting in this country since 2000, and like a majority of those before it, was carried out with a handgun.

Myron May, an attorney and FSU graduate who wounded three students before being shot and killed by police, reportedly obtained the .38-caliber weapon in New Mexico.

Of the 160 “active shooter incidents” between 2000 and 2013 included in a recent FBI study, nearly a quarter happened at schools or in other educational environments, such as school board meetings. (Active shooter incidents are defined as “an individual actively engaged in killing or attempting to kill people in a confined and populated area.” They do not include any gang shootings, other types of mass shootings or other gun-related homicides.)

Here are the school shootings that have occurred in the nearly two years since 20-year-old Adam Lanza used a semi-automatic rifle to kill 20 first-graders and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, before taking his own life with a Glock 20 pistol. Although more than 80 percent of the school shootings since 2000 have involved handguns, according to the FBI study, during this timeframe, half involved other firearms:

  • Nov. 20, 2014
    Florida State University, Tallahassee, Florida
    Myron May, 31, wounds three with a .38-caliber semi-automatic handgun.
  • Oct. 24, 2014
    Marysville-Pilchuck High School, Marysville, Washington. 
    Jaylen Fryberg, 15, kills four and wounds one with a .40-caliber Beretta semi-automatic handgun that belonged to a family member.
  • May 23, 2014
    University of California, Santa Barbara, Isla Vista, California
    Elliot Rodger, 22, kills six and wounds 13 with three 9 mm semi-automatic handguns: two Sig Sauer P226 models and a Glock 34, purchased by Rodger from separate locations.
  • Jan. 14, 2014
    Berrendo Middle School, Roswell, New Mexico 
    Mason Campbell, 12, wounds two with a sawed-off 20-gauge shotgun that belonged to his father.
  • Dec. 13, 2013
    Arapahoe High School, Centennial, Colorado
    Karl Halverson Pierson, 18, kills one with a pump-action shotgun purchased by Pierson a week earlier. In Colorado, anyone over the age of 18 can legally buy a shotgun.
  • Oct. 21, 2013
    Sparks Middle School, Sparks, Nevada
    Jose Reyes, 12, kills one and wounds two with a 9 mm semi-automatic pistol obtained from an unlocked case stored above the refrigerator in his family’s home.
  • June, 7, 2013
    Santa Monica College, Santa Monica, California
    John Zawahri, 23, kills five and wounds four with an AR-15-style rifle that he partially assembled himself and a .44-caliber semi-automatic handgun.
  • April 12, 2013
    New River Community College (satellite campus inside a mall), Christiansburg, Virginia
    Neil Allen MacInnis, 18, wounds two with a 12-gauge shotgun he had legally purchased at Wal-Mart two days earlier.
  • Jan. 10, 2013
    Taft Union High School, Taft, California
    Bryan Oliver, 16, wounds two using a pump-action 12-gauge shotgun that belonged to his brother.

The make and model of guns used in shootings is not consistently reported by law enforcement, and there is no central federal repository for the information. Even the FBI has trouble getting the information.

Pete Blair, a lead author of the FBI study and an associate professor of criminal justice at Texas State University, said some police departments declined to turn over detailed gun information, citing exemptions from state public records laws. Of the 160 cases included in the study, Blair obtained police reports for roughly 100 and turned to FBI field office and media reports for the rest.

He stressed that while law enforcement’s response time to active shooter incidents has improved dramatically, in more than half of the cases he evaluated, the shooting was over before police arrived at the scene.

Blair said the reaction by students trapped during Thursday’s shooting at Florida State University’s Strozier Library resembled what he’s noted elsewhere in recent years. While some students fled the building once they got word of the shooter, others barricaded themselves in.

“If you can’t run away, you should try and hide,” Blair said, adding that “there’s always a lot of confusion in these events.”

This story was edited by Amy Pyle and copy edited by Stephanie Rice.

Matt Drange can be reached at mdrange@cironline.org. Follow him on Twitter: @mattdrange.