17

Manufacturing Data: School Shootings

Someone I slightly know wrote on Facebook the other day with the comment, “Every day my husband has to go teach high school, I worry all day. Teaching is becoming the most dangerous job in America.”

This comment was inspired by a map that’s been making it around social media which purports to show “the 74 school shootings since Sandy Hook”. The map is based on a running list compiled from news reports by Everytown for Gun Saftey, a Michael Bloomberg affiliated “grassroots” advocacy group for gun control.

The interesting thing about these kinds of data manufacturing efforts by advocacy groups is that at times when there is no other “data” available about some topic which catches the public imagination, such informal efforts at statistics can catch on with media venues and become received wisdom. And yet, the criteria for putting together such a list is often highly influenced by the fact it’s an advocacy organization doing the compilation work. In the case of the “74 school shootings” list, the criteria listed are:

Incidents were classified as school shootings when a firearm was discharged inside a school building or on school or campus grounds, as documented in publicly reported news accounts. This includes assaults, homicides, suicides, and accidental shootings…. Incidents were identified through media reports, so this is likely an undercount of the true total.

Part of what makes this kind of advocacy work is that people have an idea of a “school shooting” is: Some disaffected student decides to go out in a blaze of media glory and blazing guns, or else some insane adult decides to go to a school and slaughter as many innocents as possible before turning his gun on himself. There are a few famous incidents (Columbine, Sandy Hook) which fit this model very nicely, and the “74 school shootings” claim gives the idea that there are many other similar incidents which just haven’t received as much news coverage.

However, when someone goes through the list of school shootings and starts to look up the news stories, a much wider range of events starts to emerge.

For instance, #10 on the Everytown list is a shooting at Hillside Elementary in San Leandro, CA. The actual news report says:

Investigators in the East Bay say they have leads, but no suspects, yet in the murder of a 19-year-old Laney College student. Travion Foster was shot and killed just before 9 p.m. Wednesday in the field behind Hillside Elementary School…. Foster was shot and killed Wednesday night in the field behind San Leandro’s Hillside School. The Alameda County Sheriff’s Department say it appears Foster was involved in a game of dice with several others, when gunfire erupted.

#9 is a shooting at Indian River State College in Florida, which resulted from police chasing a man brandishing a gun in a pickup truck around town until cornering him in a parking structure on the college campus, where a shootout ensued which injured a college-student bystander before the suspect was successfully arrested. The news story reports that police chief Sean Balwin “said he believes the man ending up at the college was just a coincidence.”

Gun control advocates could certainly point to these as incidents showing that guns do show up in crimes frequently in the US, but they certainly don’t fit the profile of “school shooting” which exists in the public’s imagination. And yet the argument that more needs to be done to reduce gun crime in general is somewhat problematic for gun control advocates because gun crime has reduced by around 50% over the last thirty years, even while gun laws have generally been relaxed and gun ownership has risen. Thus, it becomes necessary to produce a “trend” towards some specific kind of gun crime which demands legislative action. And so we have this effort to produce “data” by collecting news reports around a term which everyone thinks they know the definition of, but using a set of criteria which does not match that definition.

The effort also takes advantage of people’s inability to think very well about unlikely events. “Almost one school shooting per week!” is the claim being made based on this somewhat inflated “data”. Allow the count for a moment and consider what the denominator to that numerator is. There are around 125,000 schools in the US and around 4,000 colleges. If there are 52 “school shootings” per year, that means there is a 0.04% chance of any given school experiencing a shooting any given year. In other words, the average educational institution can expect to experience one shooting every 2,480 years. And that’s only if we count events like murders over late night dice games in the field next door as “school shootings”. A tighter filter could easily push that number out to a school shooting every 5,000 to 10,000 years. Please check your laser pistols and flint axes at the door, children.

Share With Friends
  •  
  •  
  • 3
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  
    3
    Shares

DarwinCatholic

Now an Ohio Catholic!

17 Comments

  1. I live in the DC area. I remember what the murder rate used to be, and it seemed like a lot of the deaths involved kids going to or coming from school. What I’m wondering is, do the calculation methods match? If they’re relying on a broad definition of school shooting today, are they comparing it to broadly-defined statistics from before? Or is this a case where the official numbers follow a tight definition, but since they aren’t available for current years, we’re using a broader definition for more recent years?

  2. Apparently part of the issue here is that there is no government definition of or record-keeping on “school shootings” as a category, and Everytown is specifically only compiling post-Sandy Hook news stories, so there’s no real trend to look at.

  3. The “truth” is that which advances the agenda.

    There are liars. There are damned liars. And then, there are democrats.

  4. It helps contemporary statists keep the serfs under raps.

    From “Never Yet Melted” blog.

    “Give a man a gun and he can rob a bank. Give a man a bank and he can rob the world.”

  5. A lot of people lack the numerical literacy to understand this. To be fair, there is a strong emotional reaction to any school shooting such that we perceive the denominator to be much smaller than it really is. It doesn’t help that a particular incident didn’t happen at your child’s school; the fact that it was in the same county or even the same part of your state is disconcerting enough. It’s a sort of “there but for the grace of God” effect on rationality.

  6. I just found this from the Bureau of Justice Statistics, 2005-2009 Workplace Violence rates by Occupation (incidents per 1000 employed persons):

    Total 5.1
    Medical 6.5
    Mental Health 20.5
    Teaching 6.5
    Law Enforcement 47.7
    Retail Sales 7.7
    Transportation 12.2
    Other/Uncategorized 2.8

    High school teachers do have a higher rate than most teachers (13.5), but it’s small compared to law enforcement officer (77.8) or the worst profession listed (79.9). I’ll leave that last one open for guesses.

  7. “…or the worst profession listed (79.9). I’ll leave that last one open for guesses.”

    Telemarketers? 😉

  8. “…the worst profession listed (79.9). I’ll leave that last one open for guesses.”

    Bouncers? Et tu, Franciscus?

  9. “Thou shalt not kill”…God. The removal of God and the acknowledgement of God by the atheist from the public square, public school and the public has resulted in a secular culture of hopelessness, despair and uselessness.

  10. Pinky said: “High school teachers do have a higher rate than most teachers (13.5), but it’s small compared to law enforcement officer (77.8) or the worst profession listed (79.9).”

    As a teacher with 24 years of experience with most of it being at the high school level, I am NOT impressed that the rate for teachers is 13.5 & the rate for police officers is 77.8. Who in their right mind (or anyone else who has experience working in the k-12 age range) would even try to compare the two categories? Violence us part of the job description of a police officer.

    I also want to point out that a large percentage of the actual violence that takes place on school campus is never reported or us squashed by administrators or school resource officers who see it as their job to keep the public from knowing that such incidents have occurred at the local, neighborhood school.

    And then there is all of the harassment & terroristic threatening that is never reported or dealt with–including staff member on staff member, student on staff, staff on student, parent on staff, etc.

  11. “I also want to point out that a large percentage of the actual violence that takes place on school campus is never reported or us squashed by administrators or school resource officers who see it as their job to keep the public from knowing that such incidents have occurred at the local, neighborhood school.”
    Very true, especially in towns with high property valuations. Can’t give the impression there is something wrong with the schools, now, can we? Property values might drop if fewer people want to move into town, right?

  12. Who in their right mind (or anyone else who has experience working in the k-12 age range) would even try to compare the two categories?

    A teacher, possibly wrapped up in melodrama in support of how if people would just give up ever more of their ability to defend themselves, then maybe the murderous would “respect” the no gun zone rules.

  13. Thank you for taking the time to do this post. I knew it was bunk, but, not knowing the source of the 74 school shootings since that black day in Sandy Hook! claim, I didn’t know how to debunk it.
    .
    Other than to point out to my beloved that I didn’t believe we’d seen school shooting tragedy lead the evening news 74 times in the last year and a half.

  14. Pinky said: “I live in the DC area. I remember what the murder rate used to be, and it seemed like a lot of the deaths involved kids going to or coming from school”

    I taught for 3 years in the inner city at an internationally known high school. It was not the roughest school I have ever taught in–2 other have been rougher in regards to teachers & students being in danger–but with the epidemic of drugs, violence, & gang turf wars in the area in which I taught ( as well as the sheer numbers of people in that location–when all students & staff were at school we had the number of people found in a town) too many of my students or students associated by blood/marriage to my students ended up stone cold dead. Their deaths were usually associated with drugs or alcohol. In fact, despite the drive by shootings/other such gang/drug related activities taking place with regularity in the neighborhood surrounding the school ( i had more than one student walking around with lead shot/pellets in their bodies from drive bys/shot gun spray through a house wall) all deaths of students of which I was aware during those years were the result of drug/alcohol use including combos of the two or violent crime such as rape.

    One bus stop in particular was known for young women being taken from it & raped. One of my senior’s bodies, a beautiful tall red head that I taught Geometry, was found in a dumptster in August after being placed in it by her 30 year old rapist ( he turned himself in & confessed several years after the rape & murder.). I had prayed & asked God to see that her rapist/murde turned himself in if he could be caught no other way.

    3 of our students checked out of school reeking of marijuana, got in a car,drove down the street & met their untimely deaths in a head on collision on a city street a few minutes later.

    Our head cheer leadership came to school drnk regularly but was never disciplined because her parents were well known business owners in the city, during one of those 3 years, killed herself in a car accident at which time she was found to have 3 times the legal limit of alcohol in her blood as well as cocaine.

    A student got high & hung themselves with a belt from a tree in his front yard.

    One of my students was drinking & drag racing in a city park with her boyfriend & was declared brain dead after the boyfriend wrapped his Ford Mustang around a tree in the park. I had talked to that young woman for 3 years because she seemed to have a death wish. I even saw that she was drug tested in an effort to provide intervention–but to no avail. She was suck if me talking to her about her life by the time she died (it was 2 months before her high school graduation & subsequent marriage to her boyfriend who survived the car crash.).

    During an 11week period of time at that inner city school, 18 students died from such things that were either in my classes or kin to my students.

    None if their deaths were ON the campus–despite drive by shootings into our student body during a special outdoor event scheduled by the principal & assaults outside of school hours at extra curricular events.

    Their deaths were rarely if ever in the news because they were poor minority students. The only deaths that made the news to my knowledge were 6 which took place in cars which meant firemen/policemen were dispatched & there were many public witnesses to what happened–except for my red headed senior who was found in the dumpster. The 3 deaths that were reported in widely were deaths of 3 white females.

  15. If homicide statistics from Detroit, Chicago, New York City and New Orleans are removed from calculations, the United States would rank near the bottom of country by country comparison. The anti-gun rights people like to demonize the so-called gun culture of we hayseed hillbillies out in the sticks but it is the urban hell holes run by entrenched Democratic politicians that contribute the statistics the Left uses seeking to disarm us.

Comments are closed.