School shootings and the discussion on what to do to keep students safe is a hot topic right now. Student protestors are in the news, drawing attention to the problem. So it might seem that shootings in local schools are at their highest point ever. But a study conducted by NPR came to a much different conclusion.
“Schools are safer today than they had been in previous decades,” says James Alan Fox, a professor of criminology at Northeastern University. Fox, who has been studying mass murder events since the 1980s and his doctoral student Emma Fridel have spent countless hours looking at the statistics of school shootings.
Fox and Fridel found that multi-casualty shootings are on the rise but not in school settings. In reality, in a country of 100,000 people, there is, on an average, only one multi-victim school shooting a year.
NPR found that the 1997-98 school year had the highest incidents of multi-victim school shootings. That year there were four reported. Another detail the two scholars studied was the number of gunshot victims within each shooting.
In the early 90s, there was an estimated 0.55 students per million shot and killed. Compared to 2014, that rate dwindled to a minuscule 0.15 per million.
“The difference is the impression, the perception that people have,” Fox explained. “Today we have cell phone recordings of gunfire that play over and over and over again. So it’s that the impression is very different. That’s why people think things are a lot worse now, but the statistics say otherwise.”
Fox and fellow researcher Garen Wintemute, who research gun violence at the University of California, think that we could be doing more harm than good when it comes to fortifying our schools. After a school shooting, students lose a sense of security that they yearn for, and, of course, parents and administrators want to take precautions to ensure it never happens again. But at what cost?
“Most adults wouldn’t want their workplaces to look like what some of the schools are looking like, now,” Fox said.
Jason Thompson, a superintendent for a Seattle school district that suffered from a school shooting said, “Probably, every day it pops into your head at one time or another,” Thompson said. “You think, ‘Okay, we’ve had our shooting,’ right? It’s human to think that way. But I think a lot of times for me, it’s like, ‘This could happen again.'”
School shootings only feel more frequent because of news coverage. In reality, these multi-victim shootings are rare. No one wants their children to be apart of one of these horrific events, but to say it’s an epidemic is simply misguided.