Washington, D.C. – How many students do you think were killed in a school shooting last year? 1,000? 500? 100? The actual answer is in 2019, just five students were fatally shot on school grounds or at school sponsored events.
Now, don’t get me wrong – every time a student is killed in a school shooting, it is an atrocity that needs to be addressed. Understanding how we can prevent this from happening again, researching why anyone would commit an act like this, and mourning for the student and his or her family are all important steps for our nation to take. And as a 15 year old attending a public high school, I’ve seen firsthand the toll that a school shooting somewhere else in the country can take on students on my campus and others. But when at least 15,292 people were shot and killed (excluding suicides) last year, and students are more likely to die from a lightning strike than in a mass shooting, even gun control advocates understand why many find it questionable that gun control debate and policy is largely predicated on a fraction of a percent of gun violence: school shootings.
In order to address this concern, several strategies are employed by anti-gun organizations to convince the public that school shootings pose a significant threat to our nation’s schoolchildren. One particularly nasty statistic that has gone viral on Twitter and has spread across the media is that March of 2020 was the first March since 2002 with no school shootings due to a wave of campus shutdowns across the country. Sounds scary, right? But, fortunately, it simply isn’t true that school shootings are happening with this much frequency. Despite this, the idea that school shootings are a significant, present threat to students on campus is echoed by nearly all advocates for firearm regulation – and they aren’t afraid to mislead readers to further this stance with inaccurate data.
The data used to prove that school shootings are a frequent occurrence is either retrieved from government databases such as the National School Safety Center’s Report on School Associated Violent Deaths or from anti-gun groups. The argument that last March was the first March since 2002 without a school shooting, for example, originated from a Tweet by a Washington Post reporter combining data from two government databases (including the NSSC report) and one advocacy group.
But these databases don’t define school shootings in the same way that most people would. For example, the National School Safety Center’s Report includes cases such as a “Las Vegas hotel security guard” who killed himself and was “discovered by two students”. Another school shooting was counted due to a student who committed “suicide on school grounds at 6:30 am”, as well as a case not on school grounds when “a student shot [him]self in [the] head while fleeing school in his car” running from the police. They additionally recorded a situation where one student killed another at a farm as a school shooting. They even included a case where a police officer shot an adult man on an elementary school campus at 1:45 AM who threatened to shoot the officer. Just to be clear: this is not the fault of the people who compiled the NSSC report, but the fault of the media outlets, reporters, and advocacy groups who treated all of these cases as examples of school shootings.
When a “school shooting” is counted as any shooting at or near a school (and in some cases not even near a school, such as the students at the farm), includes suicide, can be late at night when school isn’t in session, and is almost always a case with just one victim, it’s unsurprising that school shootings would be logged frequently. However, when the media uses the term “school shooting”, it evokes images of mass violence directed at a group of students on school premises when a significant number of students are on campus. Gun control advocates intentionally inflate the number of school shootings by including cases such as a police officer shooting someone who wasn’t a student when nobody else was on campus, suicides, and other cases that nobody would reasonably refer to as a school shooting.
Some other examples of this same argument framed in a different way: according to a CNN headline from November of 2019, “in 46 weeks this year, there have been 45 school shootings”. ABC News reported this ominous article: “School shootings are more common than you may think: A look at the incidents that went under the radar in 2019”. According to Everytown, an organization integral to the anti-gun movement, so far in 2020 “there were at least 33 incidents of gunfire on school grounds”. These articles rely on the same flawed and overbroad data as the statistic about school shootings in March.
By questionably defining the term, the data can be stretched to show that there are frequent school shootings. However, school shootings are in reality a rare occurrence that very few students die from. Just to be clear, every time that students are massacred on a campus, it damages our country, leads to unimaginable pain and suffering for the family of the student, and is something that we as a nation have to take seriously. However, we also have to be careful not to allow poor statistics to dominate the national gun conversation and have to understand that school shootings each year lead to a very small number of deaths. Additionally, one of the main reasons that school shootings affect our nation so much is the terror they inflict on American students. By constantly telling students that they are at a serious risk of dying in a school shooting, we are doing an incredible amount of damage to this nation’s youth and unnecessarily contributing to that fear. School shootings are absolutely an issue that needs to be addressed, but in order to address them, anti-gun advocates need to stop spreading fear rooted in misleading statistics to promote an ideology and our nation cannot allow gun control advocates’ agenda to take precedence over the truth.