When we say goodbye to our kids in the morning as they trundle off to school, we all hope they will spend their day in a safe and secure space. But ever since the Sandy Hook massacre near the end of 2012, the issue of school shootings and gun violence in schools is never far from our minds. And while I don’t think that the arming teachers and staff is a smart thing, I can sympathize with parents of school-age kids who fear that their school might be next.
Now we have a detailed report by a research team at Northwestern University who believe that school shootings are ‘significantly correlated’ with increased unemployment and conclude that these shootings reflect ‘increasing uncertainty in the school-to-work transition’ which became more problematic during the Great Recession beginning in 2008.
Not surprisingly, this effort is gaining its usual share of attention from both sides of the gun violence debate, with Gun-nut Nation claiming that the findings underscore the need to have armed guards in every K-12 school, and Gun-sense Nation of course arguing the other way. But after reading the report closely and carefully, I’m not so sure that the correlation between rates of school shootings and indicators of economic distress are as meaningful or exact as the authors of this report would lead us to believe.
First as to the raw data on the number and trend of K-12 shootings – it’s pretty thin. Which is not the fault of the researchers, you work with what you have. But what they have are six datasets, only one of which goes past 2012, and none of which are particularly exact or comprehensive in terms of giving us any kind of complete information on K-12 shootings, particularly over the last 5-6 years.
Despite these gaps, there are some findings of note. When all the datasets were merged and checked for accuracy, the researchers were able to construct a list of 381 school shootings, which works out to an average of 15 shootings per year. That works out to a rate (per 100K) of .03 shootings a year, and while the report does not quantify the deadliness of the shootings or the number of victims, if we assume a mortality rate of 50% and one victim per incident, notwithstanding the fearsome emotions precipitated by such events, K-12 schools still seem to be pretty safe places where kids can spend their days.
As to the increase in school shootings since 2008 and the onset of worsening economic trends, we can also see an increase in gun violence outside of school environments over the same period of time. If we combine data on gun homicides and gun assaults published by the CDC, we come up with a yearly average between 2001 and 2014 of 62,316 gun injuries, an annual number that was at least 20% higher in 6 of the 7 years between 2008 and 2014. In other words, if school shootings are on the rise, so are shootings which occur everywhere else. And since more than 60% of all school shootings, according to the report, were attempts by an armed individual to injure a specific person who happened to be present on the property of a particular school, why should the reasons for school shootings be any different than the reasons for gun violence wherever it takes place?
If I had a nickel for everyone with a theory about why gun violence occurs I wouldn’t have to work for a living, so I’ll add my own pet theory to the mix. I believe that every act of gun violence occurs for at least one reason, namely, the presence of a gun. And since 2008 there are a lot more guns around. And no matter who owns all these guns and no matter how strict the laws, more and more guns will get into the ‘wrong hands.’ Know how it used to be the economy, stupid? Now stupid, it’s the gun.