Listening to the top of the hour news update while driving, I was appalled by a soundbite addressing how sometimes students of the past hid under their desks to prepare for a nuclear attack, but today’s students are always hiding under their desks because they are always under attack. The speaker claimed students are being shot at every day. Is this true? Has school gun violence become so pervasive that it is only a matter of time before the school down the street from your home is attacked?
In the wake of the Parkland, Florida shooting, the nation was abuzz with reporting that this was the 18th school shooting in America in only the first 45 days of 2018. This statistic, originally tweeted by Everytown for Gun Safety, was re-tweeted by Senator Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), New York Mayor Bill de Blasio, political analyst Jeff Greenfield, and by popular performers and actors. Furthermore, the statistic reported by numerous news organizations, including MSNBC, MSN, NBC News, ABC News, CBS News, TIME, the BBC, Politico, New York Daily News, USA Today, and The Huffington Post. The Washington Post reports that “By Wednesday night, the top suggested search after typing ‘18’ into Google was ‘18 school shootings in 2018.’”
However, this report has been proven to be both an exaggeration and an egregious misrepresentation of the facts. The statistic comes from a gun-control advocacy organization called Everytown for Gun Safety which listed 17 gun-related incidents on school campuses by mid-February of 2018. The Washington Post reports, “Everytown has long inflated its total by including incidents of gunfire that are not really school shootings. Take, for example, what it counted as the year’s first: On the afternoon of Jan. 3, a 31-year-old man who had parked outside a Michigan elementary school called police to say he was armed and suicidal. Several hours later, he killed himself. The school, however, had been closed for seven months. There were no teachers. There were no students.”
This is a far cry from the common understanding of a school shooting which focuses on the targeting of students or teachers at a school. David Mastio writes in USA Today, “When parents hear the words ‘school shooting,’ their hearts freeze and their heads fill with images of Sandy Hook: dead and dying grade-schoolers, broken and bleeding in a classroom, helpless teachers crying over their charges and slain colleagues as a black-clad killer switches magazines in his AR-15.” In contrast, Everytown classifies a school shooting as any discharge of a firearm at a school—including accidents—whether or not students were involved.
Far from the standard mantra, school shootings are statistically rare, despite the fact that they have been increasing over the past few decades. Since the year 2000, shootings have occurred at a rate of about one per month. There have been approximately 130 shootings at elementary, middle, and high schools, and another 58 shootings at colleges and universities. Collectively, these have resulted in the deaths of approximately 250 students and teachers. Tragic as this is, it is a far cry from the fearful analysis of major news outlets.
As of 2014, there are 139,126 American schools according to the National Center for Education Statistics. The average school year is 180 days. This means that every school year, there are more than 25 million opportunities for a school shooting, but only 12 shootings annually. The likelihood of your child’s school experiencing a school shooting is roughly one chance in 2 million.
Given these statistics, it is surprising the level of fear mongering that inevitably surrounds the media coverage of school shootings. However, if we step back from the emotional fervor and analyze the data, we discover that we need not join the frenzy. Rather than fret over the safety of our own children, we can focus on ministering to a hurting nation. After all, 2 Timothy 1:7 teaches that God has not given us a spirit of fear, “God has not given us a spirit of fearfulness, but one of power, love, and sound judgment” (HCSB).
Fear is not from God, and it is not helpful in a time of national crisis. Instead, God has equipped us with the ability to discern the hour in which we are living, to stand strong in the face of adversity, and to reach out to those around us with truth and compassion rather than the division and accusations that often follow school shootings.
1. Everytown. Twitter Post. February 14, 2018, 1:22 PM. Accessed February 21, 2018.
2. Cox, John and Steven Rich. “No, there Haven’t been 18 School Shootings in 2018. That Number is Flat Wrong.” The Washington Post, February 15, 2018. Accessed February 22, 2018. https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/no-there-havent-been-18-school-shooting-in-2018-that-number-is-flat-wrong/2018/02/15/65b6cf72-1264-11e8-8ea1-c1d91fcec3fe_story.html?utm_term=.faca304e1129.
4. Mastio, David. “No, there have Not been 18 School Shootings Already this Year.” USA Today, February 16, 2018. Last updated February 18, 2018. Accessed February 22, 2018. https://www.usatoday.com/story/opinion/2018/02/16/parkland-school-shooting-no-there-have-not-been-18-school-shootings-already-year-column/343100002/.
5. Cox, John and Steven Rich. “No, there Haven’t been 18 School Shootings in 2018. That Number is Flat Wrong.”
6. Emery, David. “How Many School Shootings have Taken Place so Far in 2018?” Snopes, February 20, 2018. Accessed February 22, 2018. https://www.snopes.com/2018/02/16/how-many-school-shootings-in-2018/.
7. “290 School Shootings in America Since 2013.” Everytown for Gun Safety Support Fund, February 15, 2018. Accessed February 22, 2018. https://everytownresearch.org/school-shootings/?source=etno_ETRHomepage&utm_source=et_n_&utm_medium=_o&utm_campaign=ETRHomepage&refcode=ETRHomepage.
8. Cox, John and Steven Rich. “No, there Haven’t been 18 School Shootings in 2018. That Number is Flat Wrong.”
9. Mastio, David. “No, there have Not been 18 School Shootings Already this Year.”
10. Bump, Philip. “Eighteen Years of Gun Violence in U.S. Schools, Mapped.” The Washington Post, February 14, 2018. Accessed February 22, 2018. https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/politics/wp/2018/02/14/eighteen-years-of-gun-violence-in-u-s-schools-mapped/?utm_term=.61cc80014104.
11. “School Shootings in the United States.” Wikipedia, n.d. Last updated February 22, 2018. Accessed February 22, 2018. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/School_shootings_in_the_United_States#Number_of_shootings_per_century.
12. Campus Safety Staff. “Study Finds Increase in School Shootings at Colleges in U.S.” Campus Safety, October 4, 2016. Accessed February 22, 2018. https://www.campussafetymagazine.com/news/study_finds_increase_in_school_shootings_at_colleges_in_u-s/.
13. Cannon, Ashley. “Aiming at Students: The College Gun Violence Epidemic.” Citizens Crime Commission of New York City, October 2016. Accessed February 22, 2018. http://www.nycrimecommission.org/pdfs/CCC-Aiming-At-Students-College-Shootings-Oct2016.pdf.
14. Bump, Philip. “Eighteen Years of Gun Violence in U.S. Schools, Mapped.” The Washington Post, February 14, 2018. Accessed February 22, 2018. https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/politics/wp/2018/02/14/eighteen-years-of-gun-violence-in-u-s-schools-mapped/?utm_term=.61cc80014104.
17. Digest of Education Statistics, 2015 (NCES 2016-014), Table 105.50. U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, 2016. Accessed February 22, 2018. https://nces.ed.gov/programs/digest/d15/tables/dt15_105.50.asp.
18. U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, Private School Universe Survey (PSS), 2015–2016. U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, n.d. Accessed February 22, 2018. https://nces.ed.gov/surveys/pss/tables/TABLE19.asp.
Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright ©2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.