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School Shootings, Through a Media Filter

Two years ago, I looked at school homicide statistics. Those statistics revealed that despite media hyping of school shootings as some kind of “epidemic,” school shootings were actually both rare and on the decline. What’s more, those same statistics showed, the vast majority of shootings through 2010 occurred outside of schools, not inside them.

It’s time for an update now that the Bureau of Justice Statistics has released another year of data on violence against children, bringing us up to the end of 2011 (it takes time for the BJS to compile accurate information). Just yesterday, the BJS let the public see its latest report containing statistics for 2011 on youth violence in and out of schools. As Figure 1.1 shows, although school enrollment in the U.S. has been growing, the number of homicides and suicides in schools has been declining:

BJS Figure 1.1 on school violence

Figure 1.2 of the same report shows that homicides and suicides of children in school are incredibly rare compared to homicides and suicides of children out of school:

BJS Figure 2.2 on violence against children inside and outside of school

So what headline did USA Today choose for its story discussing this new BJS report? See for yourself:

Hyped USA Today Headline: Despite Beefed-Up Security, School Shootings Continue

You’re being hyped, America. Resist the hype.

2 comments to School Shootings, Through a Media Filter

  • Charles Manning

    Although I appreciate your scholarship, the phenomenon is nothing new. The beliefs and emotions of Americans about the magnitude and significance of this and many other problems (e.g., air liner crashes, motor vehicle safety defects, terrorism) usually don’t correspond to reality. Right now, as the headline shows, most Americans think school shootings are a tragedy that must be immediately addressed. The right addresses this by advising everyone to buy all the guns they can before the liberals outlaw gun ownership. The left addresses school shootings by suggesting that laws keeping firearms out of the hands of kids and the mentally ill should be strengthened. The message for those of us who understand the reality of these matters should be that the hype can be harnessed for a good cause. For example, if legislators strengthen gun control laws to reduce school shootings, that will benefit everyone, not just people in schools.

  • J Clifford

    Charles, I disagree with your assessment. What you write exposes the weaknesses in the idea that there good causes that justify exploitation of outrageous forms of thinking. That’s the old End-Justifies-The-Means assertion.

    It was that kind of thinking that led us into the War In Iraq: Maybe there wasn’t proof of weapons of mass destruction, but the good cause of getting rid of Saddam Hussein would be accomplished regardless of the truth of the matter, so wasn’t that worth a bit of deception?

    No, it turns out that the war wasn’t worth that. Thanks to the rushed war that Hillary Clinton and the Republicans supported so enthusiastically, Iraq may now be taken over by a group so extreme that even Al Quaida has repudiated its ideology and tactics.

    Encouraging sloppy thinking in the pursuit of good policy helps to transform even good policies into sloppy ones. It turns bad policies in terrible ones.

    If we can’t distinguish genuine problems from hype, how can we begin to identify a good cause from a bad one?

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