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Why School Gun Incidents are Significantly Overstated

Why School Gun Incidents are Significantly Overstated

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

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.


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There is an active cabal that seeks to overthrow the US government by disarming its citizens. The 2nd Amendment is not controversial, it recognizes the preexisting right of all to arm themselves with weapons sufficient to defend not just themselves and their families, but to defend their nation as well.

    Milhouse in reply to MSO. | August 30, 2018 at 9:58 am

    I don’t think they’re actually seeking that. They imagine they can effectively repeal the 2nd amendment without affecting any of our other liberties. They’re wrong, of course, and if they were to succeed in their goal then someone else would quickly reap the harvest they had sown, like the October Revolution piggybacked on the February one, but they would be shocked and dismayed at the result, and wonder how it happened.

    Oh, and the 2nd amendment clearly is controversial. It shouldn’t be, but you can’t deny that it is.

      Edward in reply to Milhouse. | August 30, 2018 at 10:04 am

      That’s good – you imagining what they are imagining.

      Socialists seek to overthrow the government of the US as socialism and individual rights are not compatible. Of course, socialists think they can suppress individual rights without the overthrow of the government. They cannot.

      alaskabob in reply to Milhouse. | August 30, 2018 at 10:44 am

      As the recent Cook County ruling in Illinois. As long as you have some sort of firearm and one cartridge your 2A rights are honored.

      Arminius in reply to Milhouse. | September 1, 2018 at 4:04 pm

      Technically all of rights protected by the Bill of Rights are controversial. That’s why the founders had to write a Bill of Rights, to protect them from people who didn’t like them and don’t like them now.

    iconotastic in reply to MSO. | August 30, 2018 at 6:16 pm

    I think that those who seek to turn the USA from the great and successful experiment in federalism and limited government into an unconstrained and oppressive ‘progressive’ government so Le much rather do it slowly, as has been the case for the last 75 years.

    After all, look how much of the Constitution has been redefined without even an Amendment needed. And the same culprits are hard at work redefining the 1st Amendment as well as the 2nd. Sure they have their moron street troops who chant ‘no more USA’ but the real work of destroying our grand experiment is being done in DC by bureaucrats and the proper judiciary,

The Packetman | August 30, 2018 at 9:40 am

so long as the parameters for the discussion are drawn as accurately as possible.

Yeah, that’s the last thing the left wants …

Note that the actual number is almost certainly more than 11. It’s somewhere in the range of 11-75, probably closer to the bottom of that range than to the top.

    Edward in reply to Milhouse. | August 30, 2018 at 10:02 am

    Given the level of news coverage “school shootings” attract, writing that the number is closer to 11 is a no brainer. Of course much depends on the definition of “school shooting”, from another report which covered more of the NPR item there was one incident reported which turned out to be a student firing a BB gun (some locations might consider that to be a felony level criminal act).

    We do know that some organizations work diligently to move the number as far past the 240 level as they can. Examples include counting “school shootings” like a person committing suicide in a school parking lot at night, or the California college incident some years back where people were stabbed and assaulted with a vehicle which one organization counted in their annual tally as a “school shooting”.

      JohnA in reply to Edward. | August 30, 2018 at 12:37 pm

      Using the California college example if we applied it to the London knifings it would be fun to watch the uproar.

      Maybe I am just tired of the antics of the left and their deliberate attempts at the destruction of people’s lives for disagreeing.

    puhiawa in reply to Milhouse. | August 30, 2018 at 2:07 pm

    56 of the school contacted did not respond or responded ambiguously. The latter is easy to understand. A call to the police was made, but it may not have been a school shooting, per se. In the parking lot after school hours, in a location outside, but very near the school, a student involved but outside school grounds. I would be a bit more conservative and split the difference. 11 + 1/2 of 56 = 39. More or less.

    floridaman in reply to Milhouse. | August 30, 2018 at 2:45 pm

    So you have information NPR doesn’t? Can we see your data? If you don’t why would anyone “note” anything?

      Milhouse in reply to floridaman. | August 31, 2018 at 2:12 am

      No, I don’t have information NPR doesn’t. My data are right there in the post, which you clearly haven’t bothered to read.

    amatuerwrangler in reply to Milhouse. | August 30, 2018 at 4:09 pm

    CA (and I don’t mean only CA) has all these laws that prohibit firearms within X distance from schools. The press constantly reports incidents involving firearms as “school shootings” or that the incident was “near a school” regardless of the nature of the incident or the time of the incident if it occurred within that magic zone. I am aware of one incident where a domestic disturbance resulted in a shooting (imagine that), all within the confines of the residence, but since it was within that school zone, the story read as a school-related shooting. School was not in session, it was actually closed for summer vacation. Others here today have related similar observations.

    Noted in the NPR story was the incredible expense being placed on schools to prevent these, even though they are quite rare. And because of this the teachers are left buying the supplies that should by rights, be furnished by the school. I’m old enough to remember when all we had to bring to school was ourselves.

What troubles me more than a bureaucracy failing to accurately tabulate a survey is that the NPR written piece and the audio clip seem to suggest the author/host are somehow disappointed the actual number of school shootings is so low!

What has changed is the reporting on school shootings. I actually went through one as an eighth grader back in the dark ages, where a scheduled fist fight got upgraded on one side to a knife fight, while the other side decided to raise with a gun. It was a news item for 2 days, then a few months later at sentencing, than a year later when the victim died of complications (gut shot). I used to be able to google it, but nothing appeared in today’s search.

Nowadays each school shooting gets revisited on an annual schedule at least, so the “240” number is probably the 11 that happened that year and the previous 11/yr for the last 20 years being revisited. Here in Oregon we are assaulted on an annual basis each year for the Kip Kinkel shooting down in Springfield, which is a week of articles in the Oregonian, for something that happened 20 years ago. The MSM needs to keep the stroies fresh because not enough of them happen in real life to advance their agenda. If they reported based on deaths alone, then car accidents while texting and drownings in swimming pools would dominate the headlines, and neither of those are conducive to an overthrow.

The ting to beware of, with agenda driven “studies” is that the whole thing is geared to support a preconceived idea or point of view. To this end, those conducting the study redefine the terms and conditions necessary to include “supportive evidence”. In one recent study, of “school shootings” the investigator included all shootings which took place on school ground or even near the school, whether they were related to school students and personnel or not. These included a gang shootout two blocks away from the school as well as a shooting resulting from a road rage incident in which the participants pulled into the open school parking lot, while school was out of session, and got into fight. It, therefor becomes necessary to verify the accuracy of the supposed evidence to weed out the elephant dung and outright falsehoods.

Case in point, is the recent study released concerning the Puerto Rican death toll from Hurricane maria. It is being reported that the study states that 2900 people died as a result of Maria and should be counted as storm casualties. However, no such claim is made anywhere in the study. The study correctly noted that the current 64 deaths directly attributed to Maria in PR were entirely accurate based upon the long standing, traditional criteria for categorizing such deaths from natural disasters. The study looked at deaths preceding Maria and for the six months after Maria and compared them. What it found was that the number of deaths in the six month period following Maria was 1.22 times that of the preceding period. It did not locate any causes of death which could be directly attributed to Maria, other than the 64 already noted. But, the study infers, without presenting any evidence to support this, that all of the deaths in the difference between the death rate prior to maria and the death rate for the six months post Maria [2975] can somehow all be attributed to the storm. The problem is that the study redefined the method of attributing a death to a specific natural disaster in order to increase the number of “storm related deaths”.

People have to carefully read these “studies” and verify the accuracy of the data used as well as the conclusions of the study.

Here is the Puerto Rico study, for those who are interested in it:

The school shooting debate is one worth having

No it’s not, to the extent that it’s a excuse to attack Constitutionally-acknowledged civil rights. That’s not just off the table, it was never on it in the first place.

As a discussion about counterproductive school policies, substandard law-enforcement performance, and the pernicious effects of rampant P.C., maybe.

Narrative. Can’t ban guns unless you can convince people guns are the problem

That’s a Colt M1911A1 in the pic. If a criminal steals a gun like that, the criminal is not going to use it to commit a crime. The Criminal will sell it for a profit and buy a cheap throw-away-handgun they can throw into a lake if poe-poe gets on their tail.

I don’t care if it’s 11 or 75 or 6,000,000. They aren’t getting the guns. Period.

“I don’t think they’re actually seeking that. They imagine they can effectively repeal the 2nd amendment without affecting any of our other liberties”

That’s unbelievably naive. Or deliberately dishonest. They want to take out liberties by force and the 2nd Amendment is the only thing in their way.

There are 130,000 schools in the US. 30k are private, the rest public.

A problem at 11 schools means that 130,000 did not have a problem.

11 out of 130,000 isn’t even data; it’s noise.

Ditto: Even if it’s a real number, 240 out of 130,000 is still noise.

Laws and public policy can’t be devoted to chasing after noise. You’ll always have noise. That’s just the nature of reality.

That doesn’t mean laws and policies are automatically useless, but in this case, they probably are. Back when we had schools but no school gun-control laws, school shootings were still down in the nose level. The only systemic risk to schools in those days was Indian attack. But there hasn’t been an Indian attack on anybody, school or otherwise, since about 1912.

ANY school shooting is a tragedy. 11 shootings is not even an average weekend afternoon in Chicago.

Here in Ohio, in a corrections facility, a dozen or so people were contaminated by heroin/fentynal mix. We can’t keep deadly drugs out of prisons, and yet people think we can confiscate upwards of 250-300 million firearm from the general population? I don’t think so.