Facts all come with points of view
Facts don't do what I want them to...
("Crosseyed and Painless", The Talking Heads)
Since the terrible event at Sandy Hook, pundits and politicians of all stripes have been shouting at each other in the media, each pushing their own solution to the problem of school shootings.
About two weeks ago I put up a post that included several timelines of mass shootings in the United States, as collected by various news outlets. As the shouting continued, I selected a timeline and started looking more closely at the listed incidents. Should teachers be armed? Are assault weapons bans the answer?
What follows is what I was able to uncover, using online resources.
First, Some Caveats
- I selected the U.S. News and World Report Timeline of School Shootings. This timeline begins in 2008 and works backward to 1966. No shootings that took place after 2008 are listed.
- I do not claim that this timeline includes all school shootings taking place between 1966 and 2008. (So far as I can tell, neither does U.S. News and World Report.)
- I have confined myself to school shootings- that is, shootings taking place on campus or school grounds or at school facilities or activities.
- I realize that this single timeline does not present all U.S. school shootings from 1966-2008. It is a representative sample.
- I'm not a trained statistician, sociologist, criminologist or historian. I don't have a staff collecting material and double-checking my work. I'm an ordinary citizen examining open-source information. I have no doubt made some mistakes.
- The timeline lists 57 incidents. 1 incident took place in India, and 1 other in Finland. I did not count these.
- The timeline also includes the Kent State tragedy. I did not count that. I also did not count a shooting that took place at a Colorado church/missionary-training school.
With Caveats in Mind, Here's What I Found:
Total number of school shootings I examined: 53
Number of shootings taking place at colleges or universities: 18
Number of shootings taking place at public or private K-12 schools: 33
(Of the two remaining incidents, one shooting took place at a football game and another at a school dance held off-campus.)
K-12 School Shootings Listed by U.S. News and World Report:
Number of K-12 school shootings committed by non-student adults: 4
Number of K-12 school shootings committed by students who were legal adults: 2
Number of K-12 school shootings committed by minors: 29
Age of youngest recorded shooter: 6
Many recently proposed solutions to gun violence in schools seem designed to prevent another Sandy Hook massacre, i.e., an armed adult forcing his/her way into a school. The notion of armed guards, armed teachers or armed administrators overpowering an adult intruder has been pretty popular.
Yet that particular situation occurred only 4 times on the U.S. News and World Report list. The vast majority of K-12 shootings on the list- 29 of them- were committed by minors. The youngest shooter was 6 years old.
This means that any armed guards, teachers or administrators would have to be mentally prepared to shoot a 6-year-old. Or a 12-year-old. Or a 14-year-old.
Another problem with the idea of armed officials preventing a shooting crops up when you look at the logistics of the actual crime scene. For example, at least 7 shootings took place inside a classroom. Another 9 took place in school hallways or entryways during times of heavy traffic. These are closed spaces with limited means of escape and lots of panicky children milling around. In such circumstances it would be very difficult for an armed adult to get a clear shot.
In indoor situations the shooter has one ugly advantage over any school official: the shooter doesn't have to worry about killing an innocent bystander, but the official does.
Even when shootings take place outdoors, the odds are no better for the armed guard, teacher or administrator. There are two examples on the list where the shooter took up a concealed position in a wooded area near the school, then began shooting into the school grounds. It would have taken a trained sniper to locate and disable the shooter- and fleeing students would still have been at risk. Even in outdoor situations where the shooter is not concealed, the danger of students getting caught in the crossfire remains great.
The idea of arming teachers administrators and guards has seemed pretty popular with the NRA and many rightwing pundits. But if it seems like I'm only trying throw cold water on the NRA and the rightwing, have a look at this next statistic:
At least 22 school shootings took place during the previous Assault Weapons Ban (1994-2004).
The 1994-2004 Assault Weapons Ban appears to have had no effect on the shootings in this list. Twenty-two of the listed shootings were committed during the ban. In fact, one of the most notorious school massacres- Columbine- took place during the ban.
I'm not finished with this list yet. I'll post more as I learn more.