Following the horrific and most recent school shooting in Texas on Friday, there has been debate about exactly how frequent these events are, and how at-risk American students might be.
For one example, there has been some debate about whether children in the United States face a greater risk of being shot and killed than American troops in Afghanistan. (They don’t.)
Another is the question of how many shootings have taken place over the last few years. Or in the case of a frequently cited CNN graphic, how many so far this year.
The video shows the 2018 graphic purporting 22 shootings. It’s a number you’ve likely heard many times in the last few days. Via CNN reporter M.J. Lee‘s Twitter, here is the overall graphic counting back to 2009, which counts 288:
Look at this > pic.twitter.com/tKyTNy9HWm
— MJ Lee (@mj_lee) May 21, 2018
Here is the CNN article about it. In it, they state that it’s almost one per week in 2018.
We’re only 20 weeks into 2018, and there have already been 22 school shootings where someone was hurt or killed. That averages out to more than 1 shooting a week.
Can that be right?
No, it can’t, says gun expert and columnist Stephen Gutowski, writing for the Free Beacon.
It’s not ghoulish or trivial to dispute this number. You can lament that there are enough incidents to count and still require the count be accurate. Objectively, the truth matters. Aside from that, the degree of risk kids actually face is critical information when considering heavy ethical and moral questions like gun control, school safety, or the functions and responsibilities of society.
Not to mention that including trivial incidents under the header of “school shootings” diminishes the consequence of true tragedy and diminishes the loss and suffering of victims. It also makes any sort of remedy that much more unlikely.
So what does “trivial” mean, here? Well, BB-gun bruising is a pretty good example. Gutowski writes:
Their standard includes any incident where anyone was injured in any way anywhere on school grounds for any school from kindergarten to college.
It is similar to the standard created by gun-control group Everytown for Gun Safety, which many media outlets have repeated. The main difference appears to be that CNN only counts incidents that result in some sort of injury to somebody other than the person who pulled the trigger.
It includes shootings where neither the shooter nor the victims were students or faculty at the school. It includes accidental shootings. It even includes an incident where one student was bruised after being shot with a BB gun.
The BB gun one is certainly a headline-grabber, and it trivializes the entire effort at counting this human tragedy. But that’s still not the full picture of the problem with CNN’s hasty, Tweet-ready meme of death. Gutowski continues:
If CNN’s list of school shootings is limited to incidents where a student is either the victim or perpetrator of a shooting by an actual gun on school grounds, only 12* of the 22 incidents would qualify. Of those 12 incidents, 9 happened at K-12 schools and 3 happened at universities. Most of those 12 do not closely resemble the shootings in Santa Fe or Parkland. Most were targeted attacks on a single victim or did not result in serious injuries. Four of the 12 shootings resulted in fatalities, 3 resulted in multiple fatalities, and 2 (Santa Fe and Parkland) were mass shootings where more than 4 people were killed.
There’s no room to doubt that the implication of the graphic, and particularly of tweets featuring it or sound bite segments like Jim Acosta‘s above, is to give to the viewer or reader the impression that major, mass casualty, Columbine-style events have taken place 22 times this year alone. That they occur at nearly one per week. And that is plainly false.
Twelve actual shootings on school grounds by mid-May is already terrible, even if most did not result in fatalities or did not have more than one victim. But while terrible, it certainly wouldn’t cause a panic.
On the other hand, if you tell parents that there have been 22 major shootings at schools in five months… yes. Panic.
“A study published last year found a third of parents believe their school will have a firearm incident in the next three years,” Gutowski points out. “Despite only 8.6 percent who had actually heard of a gun incident at their school in the last five years.”
Panic is no boon, even if it garners signatures on petitions. Because it harms kids. And that’s exactly what we’re trying to fight against.
[image via screengrab]
This is an opinion piece. The views expressed in this article are those of just the author.