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Schools and Gun Violence


Violence no matter where it occurs is usually a traumatic, tragic event, but when it happens in our schools to our children, it is an extraordinarily shocking occurrence.

An emotional reaction would be to blindly demand a ban on all firearms or wish they never existed in the first place. Some may feel motivated to push for legislation that makes us feel like we are "doing something," but this may not accomplish anything, or worse, it could do more harm. (This does not imply legislation of any kind is useless.)

We should harness our emotions and intellect to analyze what the problems are, determine their extent, and then weigh the advantages and disadvantages of various policy options.

The passages cited here discuss the extent of the school violence problem. Other sections of GunCite discuss the apparent benefits of firearms in civilian hands and the possible ramifications of certain policy decisions.

GunCite does not delve into the social problems that give rise to these horrible events. Unfortunately the problems are legion. Moreover, sadly, no matter how optimal the economic and political policies we adopt, or how enlightened a society we become, evil will always exist.

Carrying Guns in School

Gary Kleck in Targeting Guns: Firearms and Their Control, (Walter de Gruyter, Inc., New York 1997) comments on the carrying of guns to school:

Perhaps the most emotionally charged type of weapon carrying is that occurring in schools, because of both the youth of those involved and the perception of schools as safe havens. In the early and mid-1990s it was widely reported that each school day 100,000, 135,000, or even 186,000, children carry guns to school [three citations omitted by GunCite]. Those making the claims often did not cite sources, or cited sources that did not in fact support the claims. For example, Keith Geiger, president of the National Education Association, claimed in 1993 that "some 100,000 students bring guns to school each day," citing unspecified "statistics provided by the United States Justice Department" for support (NEA News-National Education Association Communications, Jan. 14, 1993). To my knowledge, there are no such statistics, and repeated inquiries to NEA staff have failed to turn any up.
After surveying the literature and studies on this topic, Dr. Kleck concludes, in Targeting Guns, "Both gun carrying and gun violence are thus phenomena almost entirely confined to the world outside schools."

"Less that 1% of all homicides among school-aged children (5-19 years of age) occur in or around school grounds or on the way to and from school." (CDC, Facts About Violence Among Youth and Violence in Schools. May 21, 1998)

Who's Really Killing Our Schoolkids?

The following is excerpted from a Los Angeles Times Opinion column (May 31, 1998, where emphasis appears, it has been added):

Of 20 million middle-school and high-school students, fewer than a dozen have killed at school this year. Of 20,000 secondary schools nationwide, only about 10 have reported a murder on campus...

The school shootings by students over the last eight months killed 11 youths and six adults. That is fewer kids than are murdered by parents , and fewer adults than are killed by partners, in just two days of household violence in the United States.

The president struggles to "make sense of the senseless" student shootings. His struggle should expand beyond "youth violence"-- which comprises 13% of violent crime and 8% of murder...On the day of the Jonesboro, Ark, school killings, a Daly City, Calif. mother was arrested for suffocating her three children with duct tape. A few days after the West Paducah, Ky., student shootings, three West Virginia parents were arrested for burning down their house, deliberately immolating five children. The day after the Springfield, Ore. school cafeteria massacre, an Arleta [Calif.] mother was arrested for murdering her two young children and burying them in the national forest.

Recent studies estimate that gunplay at school kills 20 to 30 youths a year, though there is no evidence the toll is higher today than in the past. By contrast that 2,000-3,000 children and youths are murdered each year by parents or caretakers, a toll that clearly is rising. Annual surveys... report that weapons-related violence in schools is no higher today than in the 1970s. But the rate of children being murdered by their parents doubled during that time.

In response to the school shootings, the president wants to enhance children's safety. But his own agencies' figures show that the best way to do that would be to target the American family. Three of four young murder victims- 90% of them under age 12 and 70% of them aged 12-17 are killed by adults, not by juveniles.

Odds and statistics are of no comfort to those victimized by violence, to be sure. But larger policy, resource allocation and academic analysis should focus on the biggest dangers to kids. The Clinton administration's own agencies have assembled reams of ignored statistics showing that today's teens are being raised by a parent generation displaying exploding rates of domestic violence, property crime, drug offenses, addiction and family instability...

Another Perspective

This column was excerpted from the Los Angeles Daily News (June 5, 1998):

Advocates of gun control have been thrown into a tizzy. Instead of going after guns sold out of automobile trunks in the inner city, they are forced politically to deal with the hunting guns used by kids in the rural shootings
In 1992, 55 killings occurred in America's schools. In 1997 it was down to 25.

By contrast, 88 people were killed by lightning in 1997. Schiraldi [Director of the Center for Justice Policy Institute] says he hates to see rural schools start spending money on metal detectors and security guards instead of books.

"It's the functional equivalent of everyone buying lightning rods," he says.
Above all consider that while the homicide rate in the United States dropped 20 percent between 1992 and 1996, the number of homicides reported on network news increased by 721 percent.

It's good for ratings, even if it may be bad for the psyches of children, voters and politicians. Fear sells. Kids are impressionable and may become copycats. Adults are impressionable and may pass bad laws.

Additional Sources

From the Justice Policy Institute, "Hype Skews our View of Youth Violence" (March 14 2001), and School House Hype: Two Years Later (April 12 2000) by Vincent Schiraldi.

Iain Murray, Zero Tolerance Yes, But for Bullies, not Guns (March 12, 2001).

James Alan Fox, School Violence: Easy solutions that won't work and difficult ones that will .

Forensic psychologist Dr. Helen Smith, "It's not the guns."

Gary Kleck, Armed Self-Defense Works - First step to sensible crime policy: Ignore the school shootings (March 27, 2001).

Columnist, Thomas Sowell, comments on the aftermath of the Littleton, Colorado school shooting.

Study: No major upswing in school shooting deaths (July 29, 1998), Associated Press.

The NRA discusses School Safety.

Indicators of School Crime and Safety, 2000, National Center for Education Statistics.

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