Monday, August 26, 2013

School Violence

School Violence

Original post Jan, 2013

The recent shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, CT has re-awakened the dialog about violence in school and in society as a whole. Many “experts” are offering opinions about what to do about school shootings. I decided that before I offer my 2 cents worth I would look at some data that may help inform the decision making process.
I know that school are one of the safest places for children and adults, but I decided to look at the numbers to get the facts. has a Time Line of Worldwide School Shooting that list school shooting since 1996.
  • K-12 school shootings – 43
  • Students killed – 71 (average 4.4/year)
  • Staff killed – 21
  • Shooters – 50 (multiple shooters, 2 shooters – 4, 4 shooters – 1)
  • Multiple student deaths ( 2 deaths-6, 4 deaths-1, 5 deaths-2, 12 deaths-1, 20 deaths-1)
Next I looked at other childhood causes of death averages.
  • Homicide by firearm – 1200
  • Accident by firearm – 170
  • Abuse and neglect – 2000
  • Drowning – 1200
  • Fires – 2000
  • Motor vehicle – 6500
Anytime a child dies for any reason it is a tragedy and society makes efforts to decrease the chances of children, or anyone, dyeing due to the cause again. We have made swimming pools safer and teach children to swim, children’s clothing is fire-retardant and we put smoke detectors in home, autos are safer and we put small children in special seats. Except for guns. The NRA leadership stated that to reduce gun deaths there should be more guns. To follow that logic we should never have made swimming pools safer, just have more swimming pools in backyards with more children who can’t swim.
Except for two school shootings of 12 and 20 student fatalities, about 4 students a year are killed in schools and almost all the shooters were fellow students, not a stranger. A 0-19 year old is far more likely to be killed at home by a family member. But, many want to put more resources in schools to protect students and staff. The data show that more students are killed each year by accidental firearms then by intruders in schools. If we put guns in the hands of school staff the odds are that more students will be killed by those guns then are killed by intruders. Putting more police in schools may help in a few situations, but if a 15 year old wants to bring a gun to school and shoot another student or teacher, a police officer at the front door is of little use. Every student would have to be searched everyday. I have read estimates  of $6 billion to place a police office in every school. I wonder where the money and police officers will come from. In a small town of 4 schools, 4 police officers could be half of the towns police force.
Shootings in any school is a serious public health problem, but as in any other public health problem one “cure” will not solve the problem. In many states teens can not drive a car alone or with other teens until they have several months of driving practice with adults. This has helped reduce motor vehicle deaths for teens. Seat belts and crash resistant design have also reduced motor vehicle deaths for everyone. If we look at gun violence in schools as a public health issue with many causes and many solutions maybe school violence can be reduced. As in the chart below, childhood cancer is the second cause of death for 5-14 year old’s and society has made progress in preventing and treating it not just for children, but for everyone.

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