There Are Fewer School Shootings Now Than During the 1990s

There Are Fewer School Shootings Now Than During the 1990s by Ryan McMaken – The Burning Platform

Now that I have several children, I’m often in the company of other parents who talk about the way things “used to be.” When the issue of child safety comes up, I hear parents sadly shake their heads and say things like “it’s not like it was when we were kids … the world is so much more dangerous now.”

Usually, the sentiment behind this idea is that there are more murders now than there used to be.

Now, I’m not exactly known for being a Pollyanna, but I am willing to admit when things are not, in fact, getting worse.

And when it comes to things like homicides, there is no evidence that things are getting worse. It is indeed true that things aren’t like they were “when we were kids,” but that’s a good thing. There were far more homicides in the United States during the 1980s and 1990s than there are today. Things were even worse than that during the 1970s. In fact, the homicide rate in the US was cut in half between 1991 and 2014. And while the homicide rate has inched up over the past two years, it is nowhere near where it was “when we were kids.”

homicide1 (1).png

For anyone familiar with these trends, it should not be a shock to hear that a subset of those homicides — school shootings — have decreased over that period as well.

In response to the latest shooting in Florida, Northeastern University released a preview of new research by James Alan Fox slated for publication this fall which shows, quite clearly, that there is no growing trend in school shootings. The university notes:

Mass school shootings are incredibly rare events. In research publishing later this year, Fox and doctoral student Emma Fridel found that on average, mass murders occur between 20 and 30 times per year, and about one of those incidents on average takes place at a school.

Fridel and Fox 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.

Their research also finds that shooting incidents involving students have been declining since the 1990s.

Four times the number of children were killed in schools in the early 1990s than today, Fox said.

“There is not an epidemic of school shootings,” he said, adding that more kids are killed each year from pool drownings or bicycle accidents. There are around 55 million school children in the United States, and on average over the past 25 years, about 10 students per year were killed by gunfire at school, according to Fox and Fridel’s research.

In a February 22 article, New York Magazine came to a similar conclusion, noting:

Schools in the United States are safer today than at any time in recent memory. Criminal victimization in America’s education facilities has declined in tandem with the nation’s collapsing crime rate. Meanwhile, as of 2013, the year after the Newtown massacre, mass shootings accounted for only 1.5 percent of all gun deaths in the United States, or 502 total fatalities.

New York was drawing on research from the US Justice Department showing that “school victimization” rates have plummeted since 1992, as a graph provided by the Justice Department shows:

victimization.PNG

Fox, the author of the Northeastern University research, does not oppose policy changes like increasing the age for purchasing guns. But he notes it’s unlikely to impact the numbers very much:

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.

Ironically, those most familiar with the data on shootings are often less likely to assume that gun control measures are an easy solution to the problem of homicide.

For example, last year, Leah Libresco at the Washington Post — hardly an organ of the NRA — concluded that gun control measures are of extremely limited value:

…my colleagues and I at FiveThirtyEight spent three months analyzing all 33,000 lives ended by guns each year in the United States, and I wound up frustrated in a whole new way. We looked at what interventions might have saved those people, and the case for the policies I’d lobbied for crumbled when I examined the evidence…

I researched the strictly tightened gun laws in Britain and Australia and concluded that they didn’t prove much about what America’s policy should be. Neither nation experienced drops in mass shootings or other gun related-crime that could be attributed to their buybacks and bans. Mass shootings were too rare in Australia for their absence after the buyback program to be clear evidence of progress. And in both Australia and Britain, the gun restrictions had an ambiguous effect on other gun-related crimes or deaths…

By the time we published our project, I didn’t believe in many of the interventions I’d heard politicians tout. I was still anti-gun, at least from the point of view of most gun owners, and I don’t want a gun in my home, as I think the risk outweighs the benefits. But I can’t endorse policies whose only selling point is that gun owners hate them.

What Libresco did conclude, was that a host of societal issues are driving much of what we hear about in terms of so-called gun violence. Mental illness, suicidegang violence, and domestic violence are all important factors that drive gun violence. The problem, Libresco admits, is that simply prohibiting certain types of guns doesn’t really address these issues.

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