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As students head back to school,
should parents worry about shootings? The math says no.
Students and parents are worried about mass
shootings as the school year begins. But the math says indiscriminate
shootings aren't as common as we think.
Published 5:09 a.m. Aug. 8, 2023
The new school year is suddenly here. Students
and their parents are heading off to local stores to stock up on school
supplies. Meanwhile, ongoing news stories linked to the despicable acts of
dispirited assailants from Nashville, Tennessee, Uvalde, Texas, and Oxford,
Michigan, who targeted their local school provide no summertime respite from
thinking - and worrying - about school shootings.
By most any measure,
fears concerning school safety are running high. An NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist
national survey from May found that 40% of respondents felt that schools in
their community were unsafe with regard to the risk of gun violence, up from
30% in 2019.
Moreover, according to last year's Gallup polling, 44% of parents feared for
their childís safety at school, the highest level since the mass shooting at
Columbine High School in April 1999. And 20% of these parents indicated that
their child had expressed such concerns, a level only exceeded back in 2001.
Anxiety over the threat of school shootings is
understandable given the loss of young lives, the massive media attention
afforded these extraordinary crimes, and the unease that many parents
experience while their child is away from their watchful eye. Fears are also
fueled by the widely reported - and somewhat misleading - statistics on
school shootings: more than a hundred a year, according to databases from
Everytown for Gun Safety and the Center for Homeland Defense and Security.
Majority of school
shootings aren't indiscriminate slaughters
Although their numbers are accurate, the
underlying details are revealing. The vast majority of these shootings are
not at all like the indiscriminate slaughters seen in Nashville, Uvalde and
databases include suicides, accidental shootings, shootings not involving
students or faculty, shootings on school property but not associated with
school activities, and even some occurring on weekends or evenings.
A clearer picture is provided by a Washington
Post database that focuses specifically on shootings during school hours.
Over the past two dozen school years (1999-2000 onward), the Postís database
includes 384 incidents, averaging 16 per year - not hundreds, but still
alarming. However, three-quarters resulted in no fatalities and one-third in
no one being shot.
Without minimizing the
physical and emotional trauma of surviving victims, only 88 of the shootings
were fatal. And only 21 involved indiscriminate gunfire (as opposed to a
specifically targeted individual or an accidental discharge of a firearm),
the very scenario of randomness that engenders so much anxiety.
This is evident from the Gallup data showing
spikes in fear levels following high-profile indiscriminate massacres.
'Thoughts and prayers':If the US won't protect
children from gun violence, should I protect mine by leaving?
As often said, one is one too many. And in this
instance, the past couple decades have witnessed an average of one
indiscriminate fatal school shooting per year. Thatís one out of nearly
130,000 schools nationwide.
Of course, the tragedy surrounds the students and
staff members who are senselessly killed while at school. Overall, 188
fatalities have taken place since the 1999-2000 school year, averaging just
Thatís out of more than 60 million students and staff members in Americaís
schools, for a 1-in-8 million risk.
A total of 112 of these victims were gunned down
indiscriminately, and 74 of those were associated with four incidents having
double-digit death tolls.
Are school shootings on the rise?
My purpose is not to say there isnít a problem or
the need for appropriate prevention strategies, but to suggest that those
claiming there's an epidemic of school shootings are being fooled by an
overly broad recitation of the numbers.
The real epidemic is fear. Perhaps a better
understanding of the data will provide some needed perspective on the actual
school drills:Active shooter drills aren't making our kids safe. They cause
unnecessary stress and fear.
Our nationís schools are safe. In fact, only
one-half of 1% of school-age victims of gun homicide are killed at school.
Children are safer in school, where they have supervision and structure,
than on playgrounds, ball fields and street corners. Indeed, some are safer
at school than in their own home.
We are spending $3 billion a year on school
security, including surveillance systems and school resource officers, when
the vast majority of shootings take place outside of the school building -
in parking lots and athletic fields.
James Alan Fox is the Lipman Professor of Criminology, Law and
Public Policy at Northeastern University and a member of the USA TODAY Board
We force youngsters to participate in repeated and sometimes
unannounced active shooter drills, sending a message of imminent
danger and traumatizing countless students, when active shooter
events in schools remain extremely rare, albeit horrific.
Much of the security funds can be better spent on school
psychologists, guidance counselors, school nurses and classroom
teachers. Not only are these professionals in a position to
recognize students at risk of committing violence, but they also
benefit millions of youngsters through the full range of valuable
services they provide.
Website: https://jamesalanfox.com Follow
him on Twitter @jamesalanfox
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