Today columns|Opeds|Boston.com blog|Media|Other Publications|
We've taught kids to fear school shootings. But lost sight of how uncommon they
We must be concerned not to instill fears in
students that are well beyond the actual level of risk
James Alan Fox Opinion contributor
Published 12:46 p.m. ET Jan. 14, 2022
The recent shooting at Michigan's Oxford High School in which four students
were killed and seven others were injured has rekindled fears for students
and their parents everywhere - fears that had been eclipsed by other safety
concerns while schools were shuttered due to COVID-19.
students back in classroom after the holiday break, in the minds of some
folks, it is once again open season for school shootings: time to beef up
security, arm teachers, and train students how to "run, hide, fight" in case
theirs is the next school to be confronted by an armed assailant.
risk of school shootings has been a major point of concern over the past
decade. From 2010 through 2021, there were more than 800 K-12 school-related
shootings in the U.S. involving a total of 1,149 victims (910 of whom were
injured in any way), according to a database compiled at the Naval
Postgraduate School's Center for Homeland Defense and Security.
That's an average of more than one shooting incident a week. Sounds awful
indeed.In-school shootings and fatalities
is noteworthy that fewer than half of the victims (532, to be exact) were
students; the rest included staff members, parents, plus hundreds with no
connection to the school whatsoever.
Moreover, 94 of the student
victims suffered gunshot wounds that proved to be fatal; some who were
targeted escaped unharmed or suffered only minor injury.
realm of school shootings, it is, as they say in real estate, all about
"location, location, location." Around three-quarters of all victims,
including students, were shot at a location outside of the school building -
in the parking lot, on the athletic fields, on a
school bus, or at an
off-campus school event.
In-school shootings are somewhat more
likely to result in fatalities given the confined space that limits the
ability to escape. Over the past dozen years, nearly 70 students have been
fatally shot inside of school during school hours, a death toll that
translates to an average of almost six student fatalities per year.
That is out of the more than 50 million children attending public or private
schools - for a roughly one-in-10 million chance of death by gunfire.
Most of those in-school student fatalities were associated with five
mass killings (20 students at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in
Connecticut; four students at Marysville High School in Washington; 14
students at the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida; eight
students at Santa Fe High School in Texas; and four at the recent incident
in Oxford, Michigan).
Since 2010, there have been 19 in-school
shootings with at least one student fatality, for an average of less than
two per year.
And that is out of 130,000 schools nationwide.
Notwithstanding the occasional fatal assault, schools are safe. While in
class, students enjoy a level of supervision and structure that they don't
necessarily have during the riskier after-school hours or even while at
home. Of course, considering the relative risks amid the omicron surge, we
must at this juncture focus more on getting vaccine shots in student arms
and worry less about students getting shot by someone armed.
Realistically assessing the risk
We can all sympathize with
the families who lost a child to gun violence at Oxford High School and the
handful of other schools that have endured similar dreadful events. The pain
caused by these tragedies is immense and wide-ranging. We should continue to
encourage vigilance so that students and teachers might help to avert a
tragedy when observing signs suggesting an impending attack.
same time, however, we must be just as concerned not to instill fears that
are well beyond the actual level of risk. Many students are traumatized by
participating in unannounced and realistic active shooter drills, and
surrounding them with fortress-like security serves as a constant reminder
of impending danger.
Finally, schools can make better use of scarce
resources than to spend excessive amounts on security measures designed to
ward off the unlikely active shooter. Instead, investment in teachers,
guidance counselors and school psychologists can help millions of school
children - not just the handful who might come to school armed with an
intent to kill.JJames Alan Fox is the Lipman Professor of
Criminology, Law and Public Policy at Northeastern University, a member of
USA TODAY's Board of Contributors, and co-author of Violence and Security on
Campus: From Preschool through College. Follow him on Twitter: