After this week’s shooting at a high school in Oregon, a misleading statistic from gun-control group Everytown for Gun Safety was widely circulated. The group noted that 74 school shootings have occurred since the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre in 2012.
The statistic includes isolated arguments between students, accidents, suicides, and gang activity. Every known incident in which a gun was discharged on school property — even if no one was hit — was included in that number.
CNN points out that only 15 of the incidents included in the Everytown statistic involved a minor or adult actively shooting inside or near a school.
Northeastern University criminologist James Alan Fox told Business Insider that media coverage plays into the belief that school shootings are on the rise. With the advent of social media and the 24-hour news cycle came increased coverage of these shootings and the perception that they’re common occurrences.
“I’m not trying to minimize the pain and suffering of victims and their families, but it’s not an epidemic,” Fox said. “People are very safe in school. For some kids, school is safer than home.”
When there are clusters of school shootings, “people think the sky is falling,” Fox said. On the whole, mass shootings in America are not on the rise, as this chart indicates:
The red line is victims, and the blue line is incidents. As you can see, there doesn’t seem to be any clear trend.
Some people do define “mass shooting” differently. The chart, which Fox created, doesn’t count just random acts of violence in which a person enters a public space and starts indiscriminately shooting. Fox’s data includes any shooting with four or more fatalities, which could encompass isolated incidents like family murders, for example.
But still, the notion that America is as violent as ever and that students are generally unsafe in schools is misguided.
“When you have events that occur with relative rarity … there’s going to be natural variability in the numbers,” Fox said. “We tend to focus on the times when they cluster and we don’t pay attention when they don’t.”
In fact, by some measures, schools have been getting safer. A Bureau of Justice Statistics report released last year shows that crime in schools has been steadily decreasing since 1993, and a recent report from the Department of Education shows that school homicides are still extremely rare.
To be sure, there’s no question that gun violence is a major problem in America.
The U.S. has one of the highest gun homicide rates among the world’s developed countries, and firearms aren’t hard to come by, with about 88 guns per 100 people in this country. But even though gun violence in the U.S. is high, it’s not as bad as it was 20 years ago.
Firearm homicides were much higher in the 1990s, as FBI statistics indicate:
Although gun murders aren’t dropping as drastically as they were in the late ’90s, gun violence isn’t nearly at the levels it was 20 years ago.
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