By Barry Donegan
A new Northeastern University research study claims that mass shootings are happening at a historically typical pace and that shooting deaths in schools have been on the decline since peaking in the 1990s.
The study entitled “The Three R’s of School Shootings: Risk, Readiness, and Response” by Lipman Family Professor of Criminology, Law, and Public Policy James Alan Fox and doctoral student Emma Fridel, which is set to be published in The Wiley Handbook on Violence in Education: Forms, Factors, and Preventions in June of 2018, compiled data on school shootings from USA Today, the FBI’s Supplementary Homicide Report, Congressional Research Service, Gun Violence Archive, Stanford Geospatial Center and Stanford Libraries, Everytown for Gun Safety, a Mother Jones compilation of shooting statistics, and an NYPD active shooters report.
While each of those reports define a mass and school shooting differently, Fox said that according to his examination of the totality of the data, since 1996, 16 multiple-victim shootings have taken place in schools, defined as shooting incidents in which there were 4 or more victims and at least 2 fatalities excluding the perpetrator. Fox defined 8 of those shootings, involving deaths of 4 or more victims excluding the perpetrator, as mass shootings, which mirrors the 1980s FBI definition of mass murder, The Washington Postnoted.
Fox also said that, including school shootings below the threshold of a mass shooting, four times as many children were fatally shot in schools in the 1990s compared to the present day. He also added that an average of 10 students per year die to gunfire in schools in the United States, meaning that bicycle accidents and pool drownings are significantly greater threats to the lives of schoolchildren.
“There is not an epidemic of school shootings,” said Fox.
Incidentally, Professor Fox is a supporter of gun control legislation and said that he believes that banning bump stocks and raising the legal age to purchase tactical rifles from 18 to 21 could help reduce overall gun crime. However, he claimed that these policy changes would do little to impact mass shootings.
“The thing to remember is that these are extremely rare events, and no matter what you can come up with to prevent it, the shooter will have a workaround,” he said. Fox also noted that there have only been five times in the past 35 years in which a person between the ages of 18 and 20 used a tactical rifle along the lines of an AR-15 to carry out a mass shooting.
Fox slammed the idea of arming teachers, calling it “absurd” and said, “I’m not a big fan of making schools look like fortresses, because they send a message to kids that the bad guy is coming for you—if we’re surrounding you with security, you must have a bull’s-eye on your back. That can actually instill fear, not relieve it.”
Emma Fridel pointed out that many security policies aimed at stopping mass shootings have been ineffective. She said that mass shooting drills have not been shown to work in studies and that students find them traumatizing. She also noted that many mass shootings have taken place at schools with metal detectors and other security precautions, as shooters have found ways around them, such as targeting students outside during fire drills or ambushing security guards at the front door to gain entry.
“These measures just serve to alarm students and make them think it’s something that’s common,” Fridel claimed.