The subject of school safety has become a hot topic after Nikolas Cruz murdered 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, FL. Arguments in favor of strict gun control are based on the claim, among other things, that there is an epidemic of school shootings that have increased in the past several decades.
Northeastern University released a study Monday, however, that calls that assumption into question. The study that found schools are still the safest spot for children. The study also found that school shootings aren’t as actually common as portrayed in the media and are not as common as decades ago.
James Alan Fox, the Lipman Family Professor of Criminology, law, and Public Policy at Northeastern and Fox and doctoral student Emma Fridel researched school shootings and “used data collected by USA Today, the FBI’s Supplementary Homicide Report, Congressional Research Service, Gun Violence Archive, Stanford Geospatial Center and Stanford Libraries, Mother Jones, Everytown for Gun Safety, and a NYPD report on active shooters.”
It led them to conclude “that shooting incidents involving students have been declining since the 1990s.”
Fox reported that “[F]our times the number of children were killed in schools in the early 1990s than today” and that this really is not an epidemic. More children die “each year from pool drownings or bicycle accidents.” Their research found that the US has about 55 million children “and on average over the past 25 years, about 10 students were killed by gunfire at school.”
From the report (emphasis mine):
Fox said, however, some policy changes aimed at decreasing school shootings and gun violence in general certainly have merit. Banning bump stocks and raising the age of purchase for assault rifles from 18 to 21 are good ideas, and may lead to a decrease in overall gun violence, he said. But he doesn’t believe these measures will prevent school shootings. “The thing to remember is that these are extremely rare events, and no matter what you can come up with to prevent it, the shooter will have a workaround,” Fox said, adding that over the past 35 years, there have been only five cases in which someone ages 18 to 20 used an assault rifle in a mass shooting.
The Department of Education states that America has “26,407 public secondary schools and 10,693 private secondary schools.” It looks like the country has 90,000 elementary schools. These numbers are from a few years ago so it wouldn’t shock me if the number is higher.
If you watch or read the news on a regular basis like me, you will notice that these incidents do receive a lot of attention. I have noticed rare events receive more attention than ones that happen all the time like car crashes. I know people who are so scared to fly due to intense media coverage of them, but I know if car crashes received the same coverage they’d be just as scared. We all know that it’s safer to fly than to drive. Fox alluded to this in his op-ed at USA Today:
It is easy to believe that school shootings are the “new normal” as has been intimated, or that we are facing a crisis of epidemic proportions. When schools are placed on lockdown based on an active shooter alert (which many times is a false alarm), cable news channels immediately inform their viewers of the danger, and word is tweeted and retweeted to millions, most of whom have no direct connection to the event.
And when gunshots ring out, we hear the sounds replayed from cellphone recordings and watch through satellite feed as terrified survivors flee the scene. It makes a lasting impression, to be sure.
There’s also the problem of stretching the truth to advance your political agenda. I’m looking at you, Everytown for gun Safety, who has tried to convince everyone that there’s a school shooting on an almost daily basis. Fox struck that down in his op-ed:
Everytown for Gun Safety reported that there have been 290 school shootings since the catastrophic massacre in Newtown, Conn., more than five years ago. However, very few of these were anything akin to Sandy Hook or Parkland. Sure, they all involved a school of some type (including technical schools and colleges) as well as a firearm, but the outcomes were hardly similar. Nearly half of the 290 were completed or attempted suicides, accidental discharges of a gun, or shootings with not a single individual being injured. Of the remainder, the vast majority involved either one fatality or none at all.
Even The Washington Post disputed the group’s numbers.
Fox and Fridel condemn the idea of making schools fortresses because the actions “can be very traumatic.” Fridel noted that after the Columbine High School massacre in 1999 that many schools in America “began holding active shooter drills in which they huddled together in a corner or hid under their desks” and some exercises included “someone walking around pretending to shoot students.” She said these exercises “just serve to alarm students and make them think it’s something that is common. Fox is against arming teachers. Some have suggested metal detectors or IDs to enter a school. Fox and Fridel offered a few examples.
Fox agreed that “increased security measures of these kinds can do more harm than good.” He concluded:
“I’m not a big fan of making schools look like fortresses, because they send a message to kids that the bad guy is coming for you—if we’re surrounding you with security, you must have a bull’s-eye on your back,” Fox said. “That can actually instill fear, not relieve it.”