Last night while I was watching the nightly news, NBC’s Lester Holt said that the shooting in Parkland, Florida marks the 18th school shooting this year. With a look of sadness and bewilderment, my girlfriend immediately asked me, “Is that true?”
Holt went on to talk about living in a “new normal,” the implication being that school shootings on the scale of Columbine and Sandy Hook are now everyday occurrences in our country.
“It’s a lie,” I said to my girlfriend. “Or, at the very least, it’s grossly misleading.”
Consider the source. Everytown for Gun Safety. The gun-control organization funded by former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg. That’s where this misguided stat is coming from. What Everytown has done is they’ve cleverly redefined “school shooting” to mean “any time a firearm discharges a live round inside a school building or on a school campus or grounds…”
When the public hears “school shooting,” they don’t think of the Metropolitan High School in New York, NY where a 17-year-old fired a gun, hitting the floor of a classroom injuring no one or Grayson College in Denison, TX, where a student accidentally fired a loaded gun, breaking a window. According to reports, she believed it to be an unloaded training weapon. The gun belonged to an advisor who was permitted to carry on campus. No one was injured.
Those incidents aren’t what come to mind when we hear “school shooting.” But they both appear on Everytown’s tracker. And the media does a piss-poor job of explaining this to viewers, wholly omitting these stories and others like them from their coverage. Watch the video below:
Cynics out there might say, well, who cares how Everytown defines school shootings. Mass killings are on the rise. Violence in this country has got out of hand!
Again, not true. This is more media spin. As I’ve written in the past, the reality is that there are about 21 mass murders per year involving firearms. That trend has been constant for almost two decades.
It is true that back in the ’70s and ’80s mass public shootings (which are a subset of mass murders, differentiated because they happen in public places, e.g. churches, schools, workplaces, as opposed to a home or residence), were less frequent than they are today but that’s because there were fewer people. When population growth is considered in the analysis, the apparent uptick from decade to decade disappears.
It’s also important to note that, generally speaking, crime is down. Violent crime, property crime, and the homicide rate per 100,000 people have all been dropping in recent years. This, despite the fact (or because of the fact), that we are more armed than ever before.
What does this all mean? That although things may appear to be worse than they once were, the opposite is probably true. Society is safer today than it was back then or, depending on the decade, as safe as it was yesteryear.
This doesn’t mean we can’t do more about school shootings. Why we haven’t done more to fortify schools against these attacks is a question worth asking. We’ve known since Columbine that high schools and colleges are likely targets.
Mental health continues to be an issue that flies under the radar after these tragedies. Reports say that the troubled perpetrator of the attack in Parkland, FL, had a bunch of red flags signaling that he, might, in fact, want to kill people. Including a post on a Youtube page that read, “I’m going to be a professional school shooter.” The FBI was notified. But nothing happened.
As with most mass killings, the warning signs were all there. We just weren’t paying attention or doing enough to make a difference. For me, that’s where this conversation ought to start. How do we do a better job stopping mass killers before they have a chance to act?