As my wife and daughter started preparing to return to school, we had several conversations about school safety and what to do in the case of a shooter. My wife sat through training sessions on the school’s plan in the case of a shooter and how to stop the bleeding in case of a gunshot wound. My daughter expressed concern about what she should do if it happened. In the meantime, I’m thinking, “How on earth have we come to a place where one of their leading concerns for the year is staying safe?”. It is incredible to me that our schools have lost their status as a safe place for students and teachers. I never worried about being harmed at school, other than if I shot off my mouth to a teacher or one of our offensive lineman. It seems our students and teachers are now in danger.
But are they really? After some thought, I reminded them they are as safe at school as they are anywhere else, and probably more so. At times, it seems like the news is filled with nothing but stories about school shootings. But this is likely the exception and not the rule. This seemed intuitive to me. I’ve actually heard it said there are fewer school shootings now than at any time in modern history, but had never seen any actual statistics. In fact, recently released statistics indicated I was wrong.
The U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights released its 2015-2016 Civil Rights Data Collection, School Climate and Safety report (CRDC), which includes data gathered via survey from every public school district in the U.S. According to the report, the CRDC:
…is a survey of all public schools and school districts in the United States. The CRDC measures student access to courses, programs, staff, and resources that impact education equity and opportunity for students. The CRDC has long provided critical information used by the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights in its enforcement and monitoring activities.
In addition, the CRDC is a valuable resource for other federal agencies, policy makers, researchers, educators, school officials, parents, students, and other members of the public who seek data on student equity and opportunity.
The CRDC gathered data from 17,337 school districts, represented by 96,360 schools and 50.6 million students. The data is gathered via surveys which all public schools are required to complete. This also means the quality of the data is dependent on the individual school and the staff member tasked with completing it. Keep that in mind. The 2015-2016 survey for the first time included a question concerning the number of shootings which had taken place within the school district. Surprisingly, 235 schools reported at least one school-related shooting. That’s a big number. It’s only 0.2% of the total number of schools, but its still a big number. The problem is, it’s wrong.
What? A government study, wrong? Yes, friends, it is wrong. And not just a little wrong. It is WAY wrong. On August 27, 2018, National Public Radio (NPR) published an article by Anya Kamentez entitled The School Shootings that Weren’t, which examined the results of the CRDC. What Kamentez found were serious errors with the data. To their credit, (and my ever-lasting amazement) NPR attempted to verify the results by contacting the schools which responded as having experienced a school shooting. Of the 235 schools which indicated they had a shooting, 161 of them told Kamentez there had been no shooting. The Cleveland Metropolitan School District reported 37 shootings for the survey period, when in fact, there had been none. There had been 37 incidents of “possession of a knife or a firearm”, data which should have been on the line above the line concerning shootings. They put the number on the wrong line. Likewise, the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District reported four school shootings. When contacted by NPR, no one could remember there ever having been a shooting at one of their schools.
There are many more examples given in the article and I encourage you to read it. It seems the errors were the result of poorly worded questions, a poorly structured survey, and simple mistakes. In the end, NPR was able to verify 11 school shootings. As a comparison, Everytown for Gun Safety listed 29 school shootings for the same period. However, only eight of those were the same schools verified by NPR. Eight or 11, either one is far less than the 235 reported by the government. The only large market media outlet to report on this discrepancy, other than NPR, was the Washington Post. Nothing on any of the network news outlets or cable channels. I suppose reporting a number over 21 times higher than what it should be on something so important doesn’t rate a place in the news cycle. It makes better television to saturate the airwaves with fear every time one does happen. I’m just glad I was correct in telling my girls they’re safe at school.
A similar story on mass shootings broke to zero media coverage on August 30. No politician with a ‘D’ after their name worth their salt has missed the opportunity to let us know how “mass shootings happen in the US more often than anywhere else” and “the majority of mass shootings happen here”. Much of this is an outright lie told to further the anti-gun agenda, but some is the result of a study conducted by Dr. Adam Lankford, professor of Criminal Justice at the University of Alabama (insert jokes here). Lankford’s study, entitled Public Mass Shooters and Firearms: A Cross-National Study of 171 Countries was published in the journal Violence and Victims in 2016. The results of the study showed 31 percent of the mass shooters who killed four or more victims between 1966 and 2012 were located in the US. Lankford claimed a direct correlation between the rate of civilian gun ownership and that of mass shooters.
A quick perusal of Lankford’s article reveals three obvious problems or biases very quickly. At the end of the introduction, he claims the study is based on “quantitative analysis of all known public mass shooters who attacked anywhere on the globe from 1966 to 2012 and killed a minimum of four victims (N=292).”. In 56 years, there have only been 292 mass shooters world-wide? Really? This seems extremely low with only a small amount of thought. We’ll return to this issue later. Lankford’s bias on this topic becomes clear as the article continues. In providing context for the study, he discusses “American Exceptionalism” and “American Gun Culture”. Under “American Exceptionalism”, Lankford states, ” Americans have historically enjoyed high levels of political freedom, but they have also struggled with high rates of violence, crime, and incarceration”, and “American individualism may be a great quality for entrepreneurship and innovation, but it may contribute to criminally deviant behaviors as well.”.
Lankford’s true colors are truly revealed in his discussion of “American Gun Culture”. After acknowledging American gun ownership allowed our victory over the British in the Revolutionary War, he wrote, “Less positive may be the fact that, according to a comparative study of 178 countries, the United States ranks first in gun ownership, with approximately 270 million firearms owned by civilians and a rate of 88.8 firearms per 100 people”. I fail to see how this is “less positive”. It all becomes crystal clear when he quotes noted authority on guns, Barak Obama.
In addition, the widespread availability of firearms in America may be contributing to the nation’s public mass shooting problem. As the president of the United States recently suggested,
We have historically respected gun rights. I respect gun rights. But the idea that, for example, we couldn’t even get a background check bill in . . . so you can’t just walk up to a store and buy a semiautomatic weapon—it makes no sense . . . We kill each other in these mass shootings at rates that are exponentially higher than anyplace else. Well, what’s the difference? The difference is that these guys can stack up a bunch of ammunition in their houses.
And there you have it. The problem here is not the quote itself, which should surprise no one. The problem is Lankford presents it as fact.
The problems with Lankford’s study go deeper than just bias, but I believe they result from them. On August 20, 2018, Dr. John R. Lott, III, of the Crime Prevention Research Center released his response. In an article entitled How a Botched Study Fooled the World About the US Share of Mass Shootings, Lott attempted to replicate Lankford’s study and identified numerous methodological problems and failures in the interpretation of the data. One major concern was with Lankford’s unwillingness to share his data. He shared it with the New York Times, who published an article on the study (along with numerous other papers and news outlets), complete with graphics of their own creation. Lankford refused to provide Lott with his data. When he approached the New York Times for the data, they told him Lankford asked them not to share it. This is very suspicious and goes against scientific scholarship.
The only source of statistics on mass shootings Lankford cited was the New York City Police Department’s 2012 Active Shooter report. This report relied on news stories from English language sources on mass shootings, introducing an instant bias against international cases. Lankford claimed to follow the same procedures in attempting to gather data as NYPD. In addition, Lankford reported on the number of shooters, rather than the number of cases. Lott found some cases of mass shooting were committed by up to 10 shooters. Reporting the number of shooters rather than cases served to inflate the numbers. Lankford also reported on the raw number of shooters rather than the rate of occurrence per the population of a given country, which is a major error in methodology. I doubt it was an error – it is enough of an elementary-level flaw to suggest it was done on purpose in support of his obvious bias.
Lott’s study relied on the University of Maryland’s Global Terrorism Database, supplemented by controlled internet searches using a variety of search terms. Looking at the period from 1998 to 2012, about 1/3 of the period examined by Lankford, Lott was able to identify 1,448cases of mass shootings world-wide committed by 3,081 shooters. This number is likely too low, given the lack of reporting from third world countries and those where the media is closely controlled by the government. As it is, this is 15 times more shooters in a 15 year period than reported by Lankford for his entire study period. The 43 cases which occurred in the US accounted for 2.88 percent of the attacks and 1.43 percent of the shooters world-wide. The population of the US accounts for 4.6 percent of the global population.
Aren’t both of the studies I’ve discussed here good news? Isn’t it a good thing school shootings and mass shootings aren’t as frequent in this country as we’ve been told? I think so. The question, then, is why hasn’t the media had anything to say about either study? I believe people would like to know it’s safe to take their children to school or to attend a concert. The sad truth is it doesn’t fit the agenda. It doesn’t strengthen the case being made for gun control by leftists and their puppets in the infotainment industry. They rely on the fear they peddle to convince people it is “common sense” to give up their freedom in the name of safety. When these things do happen, they make sure to run stories on it continuously for several days to make it seem as if they are a common occurrence. Every study which seems to reinforce this idea is widely reported, whether it’s based on junk science or out-right lies. The true danger in this is the continued focus on guns and guns owners and not on the cultural and social issues which cause mass murder to occur. I agree even one such incident is too many. I believe the one positive in all of this is a renewed focus on security, situational awareness, and personal responsibility. But we shouldn’t live in a state of fear fueled by fake news and junk science. Until the press remembers they have a duty to report factual information, whether it furthers their editorial agenda or not, it will be up to us to question everything these people tell us.