Students will no longer be allowed to carry book bags in Grand Rapids, Mich., following the fourth gun confiscation of the current school year. File Photo by Billie Jean Shaw/UPI
May 11 (UPI) -- Public school district officials in Grand Rapids, Mich., say they have banned students from wearing backpacks following the fourth confiscation of a firearm so far this school year.
District officials made what they called a "difficult decision" on Wednesday after a loaded handgun was discovered in the backpack of a third-grade student. Three of the four incidents involved weapons hidden in backpacks.
"This is not a decision we've taken lightly and we know this poses a significant inconvenience for our families," Grand Rapids Public Schools Superintendent Leadriane Roby said in a statement.
"I am more than frustrated that a decision like this is necessary, but we must put safety first and that's what this decision is about," she said. "This is just one step in an ongoing conversation about how we can best protect our children in our rapidly-changing world."
Roby said the backpack ban is to remain in effect through the end of the school year, adding that school safety protocols and supporting technology are being "enhanced."
Larry Johnson, the district's executive director of public safety and school security, told reporters the gun was discovered at Stocking Elementary School when an 8-year-old student dropped their backpack and a fellow student realized it was heavier than it should have been.
Wednesday's incident followed the previous gun discovery by just a week, he noted, calling the proliferation of firearms "a crisis in our community, a crisis in our country, and we want folks to know what's happened in Grand Rapids right now."
The situation, he said, "is not acceptable, and we plead to our parents, our grandparents, and to those who are caretakers to the young people in our community to begin to search their kids' bookbags and check their rooms."
The only reason a tragedy was avoided was because a child informed "a trusted adult" about the gun they saw, added Grand Rapids Police Chief Eric Winstrom.
"We need adults in this city to be just as good as the 7- and 8-year-olds who made the decision to do the right thing," he said.
Police and public officials can "only do so much," asserted Grand Rapids Mayor Rosalynn Bliss, who also urged adults to better monitor their weapons.
"Every single parent needs to step up and be part of the solution," she said.
The Grand Rapids incident echoes a case from January in which a 6-year-old student in Newport News, Va., brought a gun to school and shot a teacher inside a classroom.
Teacher Abby Zwerner, 25, was critically wounded in front of a class of 20 students after she was hit by a single shot fired from a 9mm Taurus handgun fired by the student, who is considered among the youngest school shooting perpetrators dating back to 1970.
Since the Valentine's Day 2018 mass shooting at Parkland, Fla., High School, there have been more than 900 shootings in K-12 school settings, according to data compiled by the K-12 School Shooting Database at the University of Central Florida.
Of those, 32 were indiscriminate attacks apparently driven by the intent to kill as many people as possible, including mass casualty events at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, in May 2022 and at Oxford High School, in Oxford, Mich., in November 2021.