Estimates on many gun-related incidents occurring on school property each year vary widely depending on the source and agenda. It’s a statistic that should be easy to find and accurate, particularly given that it’s one of the most contentious issues in American social and political discussion.


The number thrown around most — 240 — is alarmingly high. It’s also incorrect. By a lot.

NPR did the dirty work. They contact each of the 240 schools on the list of curated by the Department of Education, schools the government claims, “reported at least 1 incident involving a school-related shooting.”

But it wasn’t 240 schools. It was a whole eleven schools that ultimately confirmed some gun-related incident. Eleven.

From NPR:

This spring the U.S. Education Department reported that in the 2015-2016 school year, “nearly 240 schools … reported at least 1 incident involving a school-related shooting.” The number is far higher than most other estimates.

But NPR reached out to every one of those schools repeatedly over the course of three months and found that more than two-thirds of these reported incidents never happened. Child Trends, a nonpartisan nonprofit research organization, assisted NPR in analyzing data from the government’s Civil Rights Data Collection.

We were able to confirm just 11 reported incidents, either directly with schools or through media reports.

In 161 cases, schools or districts attested that no incident took place or couldn’t confirm one. In at least four cases, we found, something did happen, but it didn’t meet the government’s parameters for a shooting. About a quarter of schools didn’t respond to our inquiries.

“When we’re talking about such an important and rare event, [this] amount of data error could be very meaningful,” says Deborah Temkin, a researcher and program director at Child Trends.

The Education Department, asked for comment on our reporting, noted that it relies on school districts to provide accurate information in the survey responses and says it will update some of these data later this fall. But, officials added, the department has no plans to republish the existing publication.

This confusion comes at a time when the need for clear data on school violence has never been more pressing. Students around the country are heading back to school this month under a cloud of fear stemming from the most recent mass shootings in Parkland, Fla., and Santa Fe, Texas.

This is part of the reason passionate defend second amendment protections defenders write off most reports or opinions on gun ownership — the reporting, data, and descriptions are almost always wrong and egregiously so.

11 reported incidents are not chump change, and to the families who lost a loved one in a school shooting or related event, 11 is 11 too many. But dropped into the context of a population of over 300 million, 11 is minuscule.

Even the most ardent gun rights defenders grieve the senseless loss of life, but tire of being blamed for the mistakes of few, especially when faulty data is continually thrown in their face for justification.

The school shooting debate is one worth having so long as the parameters for the discussion are drawn as accurately as possible.

Props to NPR for doing the unsexy bootstrap reporting work very few in political media do these days.