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Scared of Gun Violence? Run INTO a School!*

A few months ago, Mayors Against Illegal Guns released a careful study of all 93 mass shootings (4 or more people killed by guns in one incident) they could identify in the United States from January 2009 to September 2013. Its “findings reveal a different portrait of mass shootings in America than conventional wisdom might suggest,” chiefly that mass shootings comprise fewer than 1% of all gun killings, and 57% of mass shootings involve domestic violence.

How disappointing. No one on either side of the gun debate wanted new, relevant facts to intrude on their rigidly refined talking points, especially ones affirming that the sacred American home and family are the font of gun carnage. Except in these pages, silence reigned.

Then, last week, the same group released an updated analysis of all 74 school and college campus shootings of any kind that it could identify since the Sandy Hook school massacre in December 2012. The report defined a school shooting as “when a firearm was discharged inside a school building or on school or campus grounds,” including all “assaults, homicides, suicides, and accidental shootings” whether fatal or nonfatal, regardless of numbers of casualties.

Eureka! Even though the 74 school shootings comprise just 0.05% of the approximately 150,000 shootings the Centers for Disease Control tabulates as causing death or injury in the United States over an 18-month period, “school shootings” fits everyone’s agenda. Pandemonium erupted.

President Obama used the report obliquely to deplore that the U.S. is “the only developed country on Earth where this happens, and it happens now once a week.” On the other side, conservative columnist Charles Johnson challenged more than half of the 74 shootings that involved suicides, accidents, and gang and drug disputes, and a couple that involved an ex-husband shooting a principal or a deranged man shooting himself, as not being true “school shootings” in the Sandy-Hook sense of the word.

Politifact also judged the MAIG report “mostly false,” since MAIG’s “criteria goes [sic] beyond what many people would consider ‘school shootings’—incidents in which a student or an intruder enters a school and fires at innocent students and staff.” By Politifact’s criterion, “only” 10 of the 74 were real “school shootings” like Sandy Hook or Columbine.

That is, the whole squabble boils down to semantics (what, Siri, is a “school shooting”?) followed by a barrage of rebuttals and counter-rebuttals and bellowings about the perfidy of the other side. Arguing abstractions concerning a school venue that accounts for 5 out of every 10,000 gun casualties pretty much sums up the (non) progress of America’s gun debate.

This is how Americans fail to solve social crises. What we should be doing is praising schools and colleges for their *remarkable safety records in a gun-riddled nation and move toward discussing far more dangerous institutions—beginning with the family and home, where children and teens are 10-20 times more likely to be shot to death by adults than in schools. As long as politicians and interests are allowed to establish hierarchies of victims and endlessly quarrel over narrow controversies tailored to trash the other side, the larger, less politically exploitable patterns of gun violence will remain unaddressed.

Keywords: education, guns, Juvenile justice, Mike Males

Posted in Blog, Political Landscape

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