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Most Adolescents Who Commit School Shootings Use a Family Member’s Gun


Sunday, December 3rd, 2023


This week’s core story is about: Where school shooters get the guns they use.

Heads up: This week’s issue looks slightly different! I’m still playing around with the sections a bit in preparation for some updates, so thanks for bearing with me!


Most Adolescents Who Commit School Shootings Use a Family Member’s Gun

A new study found most adolescent school shooters use a family member’s gun


A new study by researchers at the University of South Carolina highlights the importance of the safe storage of firearms, finding most adolescent school shooters over the past three decades have used a relative’s gun, which they most often procured via theft.

Study highlights:

The study analyzed data from The American School Shooting Study (TASSS), a national-level database using open-source information on school shootings, including 253 shootings on K-12 campuses from 1990 to 2016. 

The researchers found of the 262 adolescent school shooters over the study period, all aged 19 or younger, 51.8% used a firearm sourced from a family member, primarily their parents, of which 82.1% procured by stealing the gun from their relative.

Outside of family, 22.0% of shooters in the study obtained the weapon they used from friends or acquaintances, while 29.6% turned to the illegal market. Just 4.7% of shooters sourced their guns from strangers or individuals who were shot, and a mere 1.9% used a gun they personally owned and obtained legally.

The study also found the vast majority (85.5%) of school shootings involved a handgun, while far fewer involved rifles (9.6%) and shotguns (5.9%). Most firearms used in shootings were moderately (39.7%) or low powered (37.0%), rather than high powered (23.3%).

“Although today’s media coverage primarily focuses on high-profile school shootings in which assault-style rifles are used, our findings suggest these cases do not historically represent the broader issue, despite the emergence of this new trend in recent years, which falls beyond the scope of TASSS (i.e., 2017 to 2023),” the authors wrote. 

Of the 262 shooters in the study, nearly all were male (97.8%), and their mean age was 16.2 years. Of the shooters, 57.8% were Black, 27.9% were white, 8.6% were Hispanic, and 5.7% came from other racial or ethnic groups. 

Why it matters:

The researchers say their work offers “valuable insights that can inform both public health interventions and policy measures,” and “highlights the need for comprehensive strategies, including better firearm safety practices at home, legal measures, and community education, to address the multifaceted issue of school shootings.”

The study also underscores the importance of secure gun storage in homes, particularly those with adolescents, and limiting young people’s access to firearms through other means, like legislative measures, educational campaigns, or public health initiatives.

Bonus bite: An opinion by The Washington Post’s editorial board on Wednesday highlighted a new legal strategy to reduce gun violence: target reckless parents when kids use their guns in shootings. 

Prosecutors in several states, including Virginia, Illinois, and Michigan, are using the emerging legal strategy against parents of adolescent school shooters who failed to securely store their firearms, aided their child in acquiring a gun despite knowing they threatened a mass shooting, and ignored clear warning signs shared to them by school officials.

Another bonus bite: A new study by researchers at Rutgers University found many gun owners “see little value” in securely storing their firearms.


A new study found traumatic memories may be processed as present experiences rather than autobiographical memories


Traumatic Memories May Be Processed As Present Experiences

A new study by researchers at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai and Yale University found people with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) process traumatic memories in a way akin to present experiences rather than autobiographical memories, possibly explaining the highly detailed and personal nature of traumatic memories.

  • Without getting lost in the weeds, the researchers found traumatic memories engaged a part of the brain associated with internally directed thought that previously had not been known to be associated with memory, suggesting traumatic memories may have a distinct neural mechanism underlying the subjective experience of recalling a traumatic memory rather than a regular memory.

  • “This is consistent with the notion that traumatic memories are not experienced as memories per se,” said study author Ilan Harpaz-Rotem. “Rather, these are fragments of prior events, subjugating the present moment to evade the comfort of belonging to the past.”



A new study found prison mortality in the U.S. soared in 2020


Deaths in U.S. Prisons Soared in 2020

A new study by researchers at the University of California, Irvine, found total mortality in U.S. prisons increased by 77% in 2020 relative to 2019, highlighting the impact of COVID-19 on facilities nationwide and the widespread inconsistencies in reporting incarcerated deaths. The study included data from 46 states.

  • The researchers found prison mortality during the study period was 3.4 times that of the general population, with COVID-19 being the primary driver of deaths due to natural causes. The study also found increases in mortality in prisons across all studied age groups (49 and younger, 50 to 64, and 65 and older). 

  • More damningly, the study uncovered substantial variation and inconsistencies in how prisons nationwide recorded inmate deaths, leading the researchers to conclude COVID mortality in U.S. prison populations has been severely understated.



A new report found global billionaires amassed more wealth through inheritance than work for the first time


Billionaires Amass More Wealth Through Inheritance than Entrepreneurship 

A new report by Swiss bank UBS found new members of the global billionaire class accumulated more wealth through inheritance than entrepreneurship in the past year, finding $151 billion was passed on to 53 heirs while $141 billion was amassed by 84 “self-made” billionaires. It’s the first time more billionaire wealth was accumulated through inheritance than entrepreneurship in the nine years UBS has been surveying global billionaires. 

  • The report found the total number of billionaires rose by 7% globally in the past year, increasing from 2,376 to 2,544, while their wealth increased 9%, growing from $11 trillion to $12 trillion. The total remains below the global peak of $13.4 trillion held by 2,686 billionaires in 2021.

  • “This year’s report found that the majority of billionaires that accumulated wealth in the last year did so through inheritance as opposed to entrepreneurship,” said Benjamin Cavalli, UBS’s head of global wealth management strategic clients. “This is a theme we expect to see more of over the next 20 years, as more than 1,000 billionaires pass an estimated $5.2 trillion to their children.”


Researchers May Have Solved the Mystery Behind Itchy Skin 

A new study by researchers at Harvard University shows, for the first time, the common skin bacterium Staphylococcus aureus can cause itch by acting directly on nerve cells, potentially explaining why common skin conditions like eczema and atopic dermatitis are accompanied by persistent itch.

Without getting lost in the weeds, the researchers found S. aureus releases a chemical that activates a protein on the nerve fibers responsible for transmitting signals from the skin to the brain. 

According to the authors, until now, it was believed the itch that comes with eczema and atopic dermatitis was caused by inflammation of the skin, but their work shows S. aureus “single-handedly” causes itch by instigating a chemical reaction that results in the urge to scratch. 

The researchers say the findings can help inform the development of medicines and topical creams to treat persistent itch.


Neuro-nerds: Check Out This Newsletter About the Brain!

BrainPost is a weekly newsletter that delivers digestible, accurate summaries of the latest neuroscience research to help you stay up-to-date.

Written by real researchers with a passion for science communication, BrainPost is for anyone who wants to engage with neuroscience and understand the broader impacts of new research in the discipline.


  • 77% - The percentage of adults across 23 countries, including the U.S., the U.K., China, and South Africa, that agree it’s essential for their government to do “whatever it takes to limit the effects of climate change,” according to a new report by Potential Energy and the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication. The report also found framing the need to combat climate change as a way to protect the planet for future generations (what the report called “generational messaging”) was the most effective framing to gain support for climate policies.

  • 77.5 years - The average U.S. life expectancy at birth in 2022, according to a new report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The report found life expectancy increased by 1.1 years compared to the year before, marking the first increase since the beginning of the COVID pandemic. Still, the increase wasn’t enough to offset the loss in life expectancy since the start of the pandemic (2.4 years).

  • $1.28 billion - The amount of global revenue elite women’s sports will generate in 2024, according to new data from Deloitte. The figure represents a 300% increase from the previous prediction (in 2021) and marks the first time elite women’s sports are expected to generate over $1 billion globally.

  • 2,907,378 - The number of passengers screened at U.S. airports on November 26 (the first Sunday after Thanksgiving), according to new data from the Transportation Security Administration. The figure marks a new record high for screenings in a single day, topping the previous record of 2,884,783 set on June 30.


Long Video. The world is getting a second Vegas Sphere. (10 min) 

Short Video. Decision fatigue and the psychology of how to make smarter decisions. (5 min)

Fun Video. Learn about Sweden’s love for tubed foods. (4 min)

Good Read. Dive into Tyrian purple, the lost ancient pigment that was once more valuable than gold. (2,365 words; 12 min)

Neat List. Along with its annual “30 Under 30” list, Forbes released a “Hall of Shame” featuring their most regretted selections.


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Written by Ryan Wittler