Anonymous tip line flags thousands of firearm threats in schools

January 17, 2024
Concept illustration of a student making a phone call. Image credit: Nicole Smith, made with Midjourney

A look at one state’s use of Sandy Hook Promise’s Say Something Anonymous Reporting System, which provides K-12 students a way to confidentially report concerning behaviors, found that youth submitted thousands of tips each year on firearm-related risks.

The study, led by researchers from the University of Michigan’s Institute for Firearm Injury Prevention in partnership with Sandy Hook Promise, analyzed the Say Something Anonymous Reporting System in North Carolina, which serves 103 school districts and 156 charter schools, and pulled data from more than 18,000 unique tips made through the system.

According to the study, published in the journal Pediatrics, 1 in 10 tips submitted involved firearm-related threats. Of the total gun-related tips reported between 2019-2023, 51% were classified as life-threatening—five times greater than the proportion of tips not related to firearms—eliciting response from EMS and/or policing systems.

Once tips are reported, they are classified as nonlife-threatening or life-threatening by the accredited National Crisis Center, a key part of the Say Something Anonymous Reporting System.

During the study period, Sandy Hook Promise reported that the anonymous reporting system:

  • Led to 1,039 confirmed mental health interventions, enabling 109 “saves,” where clear evidence of imminent suicide crisis was present and averted.
  • Prevented 38 acts of school-violence including weapons recovered on school grounds.
  • Averted six confirmed planned school attacks.

Tips that referenced firearms include potential school shootings (38%), seeing or knowing of a weapon (22%), intent for interpersonal violence (9%), bullying or cyberbullying (3%), and suicide (3%).

“The urgency of firearm-related tips highlights the need to educate families on firearm violence prevention, and ensure support and response protocols for school systems,” said Elyse Thulin, lead author of the study and research assistant professor at the Institute for Firearm Injury Prevention and adjunct lecturer at the U-M School of Public Health.

Firearm-related injuries are the leading cause of death among children and adolescents in the United States, and the findings of the study show that youth can play a valuable role in alerting and averting firearms threats.

More than 50% of K-12 schools in the U.S. use anonymous reporting systems to decrease the burden of firearm injuries, according to the study.

Versions of anonymous reporting systems like Say Something are developed to leverage the “see-something-say-something” model, which seeks to increase citizen awareness and empowerment to report potentially dangerous items, events and behaviors, the researchers say.

“Greater awareness of anonymous reporting systems among public health and medical personnel could create opportunities for additional services and support for adolescents and remove some of the burden from families and school systems in responding to these often-life-threatening situations,” according to the researchers.

Additional study authors include: Justin Heinze and Elizabeth Messman, Department of Health Behavior and Health Education, U-M School of Public Health; and Alex French and Rachel Masi, Sandy Hook Promise Foundation.