While Congress and the White House debate legislative responses to the recent mass shooting in Florida, where a troubled 19-year-old man shot 17 persons to death and injured a dozen more, most of the discussion has been on gun control. Proposals have included upping the age for purchasing certain firearms from 18 to 21, arming teachers, fortifying schools with more police and guards, and keeping firearms out of the hands of mental health patients. New studies are casting doubt on some of the proposals for school safety.
According to Professor James Alan Fox of Northeastern University and researcher Emma E. Fridel, it is unlikely that any of the various proposals can prevent prevent mass school shootings. Fox wrote recently that since 1996, there have been 16 multiple victim shootings in schools, or incidents involving 4 or more victims and at least 2 deaths by firearms, excluding the assailant. Of these, 8 are mass shootings, or incidents involving 4 or more deaths, excluding the assailant. “This is not an epidemic,” Fox said.
Fox and Fridel provided their data in “The Three R’s of School Shootings: Risk, Readiness, and Response,” which will appear later this year in H. Shapiro, ed., The Wiley Handbook on Violence in Education: Forms, Factors, and Preventions.
By using data collected by the FBI Supplementary Homicide Report, Congressional Research Service, Stanford Geospatial Center, Stanford Libraries, Mother Jones magazine, a NYPD report on active shooters, USA Today, Gun Violence Archive, and Everytown for Gun Safety, Fox and Fridel found that mass shootings at schools are quite rare. They found that shootings involving students have actually declined since the 1990s. In an interview with He noted that there were four times the number of children killed in schools in the early 1990s than are today. “There is not an epidemic of school shootings,” he said in an article that appears at the Northeastern University website. More children die of pool drownings and bicycle accidents. Over the last 25 years, only 10 kids per year were killed by gunfire in schools, according to the research.
Some ideas have merit, according to Fox. He is in favor of banning so-called bump-stocks that allow semi-automatic firearms to fire at a nearly automatic rate. Raising the age from 18 to 21 for those purchasing certain firearms may be a good idea, he said, but shooters will alway have a way to work around prohibitions. Over the past 35 years, Fox asserts, there have been only five instances where someone ages 18 to 20 used a semi-automatic or automatic firearm in a mass shooting.
Wanted: school guidance counselors
The researchers posit that providing more mental health resources for students might improve school safety. Calling it a critical need that has been overlooked, they pointed out that schools are facing a shortage in the number of guidance counselors. In 2014-15, the student-to-school counselor ratio was 482-to-1, according to the American School Counselor Association, which is nearly twice the organization’s recommended ratio. With such a ratio, the researcher fear that many troubled students may be missed.
Since the fatal shooting at Columbine High School in 1999, schools across the country began holding active shooter drills. In six states they are mandated. School children participate in simulated attacks in which they hide under desks or in closets while police officers rush in to search for a fictive shooter. According to the researchers, these exercises can traumatize children, and that there is no evidence that they help protect students. Increased security measures, including arming teachers, can do more harm than good. In the article at the Northeastern University website, Fox 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,” Fox said. “That can actually instill fear, not relieve it.”
In an interview on C-SPAN, Fox blamed the media coverage for the perception that mass school shootings are on the rise. “Back in the late 1980s, you did not have cable news channels with 24 hour coverage. You did not have satellite media coveage that would show images of families embracing and children crying, beaming them right into your living room, making you feel like it is happening just down the street. The impression is there are more cases, but there are fewer, actually. Back in the 1990s - the 1996-97 school year there were four mass shootings. What happened in Florida is horrible...but let’s not overreact.”
“We have 55 million schoolchildren and over 100,000 schools. Again, without minimizing the horror of what happened, the probability of the risk is extremely small,” Fox said in reference to the shooting at the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.”Over-response, like arming teachers, is just the wrong move. Turning our schools into fortresses, surrounding our kids with constant reminders of this bull’s-eye on their back, is the wrong move.” He proposes was more guidance counselors to be appointed at schools.
With regard to reports that there is an average of one school shooting each week in America, Fox said that in the majority of cases, no one was killed. “They include suicides, cases where someone was shot, but not killed. It’s not a one a week phenomenon. It is a one a week event that happens very infrequently.”