Stats to Know: School Shootings at Private Schools

Over the past couple of years, it has become more common to hear about mass shootings in schools. With the high number of school shootings, you may be wondering if there is any difference between public and private schools, and we wondered that too.

School shootings happen at private schools less often than public schools. This could be because access to campus is harder or because of the selective process to attend, but there isn’t a studied and proven reason as to why. Statistics like crime rates and local circumstances offer some guidance.

If you want to know more about these specific and very important details, then keep reading to find out more.

Private Schools Are Less Likely To Experience A School Shooting

The first thing that you should consider is any potential differences between private and public schools. Public Schools tend to be larger, pull students in from a larger area, and are more common throughout the US. Private schools on the other hand tend to be smaller schools that are less commonly found in communities.

They tend to be schools focused either on a specific portion of education like art and science or sometimes are religious schools. Now that we understand some of the differences between Public and Private schools let’s look at whether school shootings are more common in one of them.

In research done by the CATO Institute, they looked at where school shootings were occurring. According to their data between 2000 and 2018, there were a total of 134 school shootings. Shootings that they classified as school shootings had a couple of criteria. First, the shooting had to occur on or near the school ground while students were on the school grounds. It also doesn’t count any suicides that meet the other two criteria. Having established these three criteria CATO calculated the number of school shootings, and then separated them into two groups, whether they occurred at a private school or a public one.

Based on what they found, out of the 134 school shootings that occurred between 2000 and 2018, 122 took place at a public school, while 8 took place at private schools, (in 4 of the shootings they were unable to determine whether the school was private or public). For those of you keeping score at home that means that 94 percent of school shootings occur in public schools, with only 6 percent happening in private schools. You are astronomically less likely to experience a school shooting if you attend a private school versus a public school. It is unclear why this difference happens but just based on the data private schools have much less chance of experiencing a school shooting.

Why are Public Schools Targeted More than Private Schools?

Public schools are more common than private schools, so that is one main contributing factor as to why public schools are more likely to become in danger. Now there aren’t any definite answers by researchers as to why public schools are attacked more often than private schools, but by looking at some factors we can create some ideas as to why. We can also take a look at the profile that school shooters can be labeled under, and that can help us generalize why public schools are targets over private schools. For clarity, this is not findings from a study, but rather taking lots of information and creating a conclusion based on the various resources that you can see linked below.


Understanding why a specific school was chosen is difficult because each shooter has different motives, but there are general consistencies. In gathering information about the shooter’s affiliation with the school, 43.1% of shooters are students of the school. Next to that, there are 20.4% that have no relation. This is hard to understand, because if they have no relation or affiliation with the school, then it is hard to try to analyze and understand their motive. This is also difficult when the next largest percentage is 15.3% and that is the number of unknown affiliations or relations there are when trying to understand school shooters’ relation to the school attack. (Source)

The categories are that the shooter was a parent, a former student, someone with an intimate relationship with a student, a rival school’s student, a non-student attending a school event, staff, a relative, and more. Based on this information, we can conclude that the majority of shooters are current or former students, someone with blood or intimate relationship with a student, or it is someone with no relationship at all with the students, staff, or school. The sad thing about this information is that it basically means that anyone can fit this description because we are all related to a student, we have been or are students, and we also have schools where we have no relation there. So, the description is general enough for us to need more aspects of these shooters to look into in order to give more light as to why a public school is more likely to be a target.


The next thing we can look at is the situation. The largest percentage is the escalation of dispute at 37%, so that means there was something that happened prior to the shooting that can help determine the reasoning for the shooting. Another large portion, 10.4%, is accidental. So that means the shooter did not purposefully attack, rather it was an accident. Now not all school shootings have people who were wounded or killed, but I would be interested to see if the accidental situations of a shooting were related to fewer or more people who were harmed or killed. We don’t have information to tell us that, but there might be a positive or negative correlation there.

The other types of situations for shootings are suicide or attempted suicide, illegal activity, drive-by shooting, indiscriminate shooting, domestic with a targeted victim, unknown, anger over grade/ suspension/ discipline, intentional property damage, hostage/standoff, and more. There are many reasons as to what could lead a person to commit such a harsh crime, but it is hard to generalize a profile for a shooter when each situation is unique and different. And we obviously don’t want more data to look at, we should rather it stop. So it is overall tough to try to state what a reason is. But, we can see correlations between the affiliation and the situation.

Finding Correlations with the Situation and Affiliation

We can see that if they’re a current student or perhaps a past student, the situation that made them result in shooting the school was perhaps related to a bad grade, getting suspended, receiving or needing discipline. To break it down a little more, we can understand that students who receive a suspension for a day, a few days, and week, or even indefinitely are more likely to have problems at school.

Now, not every student who gets in trouble or suspended is a school shooter, that is not what the data is implying. Rather we can see trends of people who are constantly in trouble, students who are in and out of suspension, and perhaps students who choose violence are going to correlate with school shooters who fit that description. We know that students who are in and out of suspension and who have been kicked out of school are not in a healthy place, so they are going down a path that is dangerous and harmful. They might get into drugs, gang activity, stealing, and other harmful and unhealthy addictions and behaviors. It is very unfortunate, but everyone can think of someone in their life who has a hard life in those areas now, and you can likely think back to how everything started. These actions stem from somewhere in their past, so understanding their history of suspension, grades, and discipline, in general, can help researchers correlate when their behavior escalated to lead them to a school shooting.

How the Correlations Relate to the Type of School Targeted

Taking this information we can relate it to public and private schools. We know that private school is education that parents pay for their kids, and it is a school with more intimate classrooms, more activities, more funding, and students overall have better grades. Public school is for everyone. it is for trouble makers and students who get straight A’s. There is more variety if the type of people attending a public school than a private school.

The students at public schools can come from impoverished areas and wealthy areas of a city. There are also correlations between poverty and higher crime rates, so we can correlate that more school shootings happen at public schools because there are more students with relation to crime or who commit crimes. The students who go to public school and grow up in poverty in what resources they have available to them, and might not have the support they need at home either. These students can always grow up and make a good life for themselves and their families, and many do. But it is hard, and sometimes these students choose bad paths to follow. (Source)

Shooters can also be people with money, people who are entitled, people who are prideful, and more. So not all shooters come from poverty, there are many who are good at holding grudges, and resentment, and who fall down bad paths later in life and decide to commit crimes after the fact. Just when we think that a shooter is one type of person, we find out that they can come from another type of background, making it hard to narrow down the definition of who a school shooter is.

Concluding these Findings

Overall, people who decide to plan an attack on a school are awful people who were once like any of us. We never know what people are capable of, and we never know someone’s entire story. Some people decide to attack schools because they were bullied by peers or adult staff, and that started them down a path that was so wrong. There is so much evil in the world, so understanding that our efforts now in being kind can help others want to be kind. Our actions can help so many people, even when we think it doesn’t. That goes for all eh nice and mean things we do in life. We just never know what will help someone out or what will set someone off.

The profile for a school shooter is able to be generalized, but there are just so many reasons, so many backgrounds, and so much history to go through to fully understand why someone does this. But, we can see that at private schools where there are fewer behavior problems among students, there are fewer shootings. We should take this and understand that if we teach ourselves and others to be kind, to turn the other cheek, and to cope healthily then we can create a generation of students who won’t have school shootings on the news often.


As a nation, as we gather more and more data about school shootings, we can understand more about why someone does that and how we can keep ourselves, our friends, kids, families, and neighbors safe.

We can identify ways to better help students by understanding trends and risk factors of school shootings. We know that there is a difference between the frequency of school shootings at public schools and private schools. This difference can drive us to figure out more patterns that can be used to help prevent shootings. Because we know there are fewer shootings at private schools, we can look into the difference in scenarios that occur at private school shootings and public school shootings and it will help determine what we can do better to prevent shootings. This will help us find ways to implement new safety measures and it will help us prevent shootings in the future.