Debunking the school shooting "epidemic" and a curious White House meeting

  • 1 March 2018
  • NormanL
He said what?

The school shooting in Parkland, Florida has raised the question of whether mass attacks on schools are getting more frequent, and more deadly. If one were only to follow the press coverage of the issue, then the impression would be that schools are more prone to shootings than ever. But the research says that's just not so.

A Northeastern University study by criminology professor James Alan Fox and doctoral student Emma Fridel looked at the data, and found that schools are safer now than they were 20 years ago, and that mass shootings -- already rare events -- are less common than they used to be:

“There is not an epidemic of school shootings,” [Fox] said, adding that more kids are killed each year from pool drownings or bicycle accidents. There are around 55 million school children in the United States, and on average over the past 25 years, about 10 students per year were killed by gunfire at school, according to Fox and Fridel’s research.

As for the various proposals floating in Congress about access to firearms, including imposing age restrictions, Fox said those are mixed bag, and offer no guarantees against a future incident:

Fox said, however, some policy changes aimed at decreasing school shootings and gun violence in general certainly have merit. Banning bump stocks and raising the age of purchase for assault rifles from 18 to 21 are good ideas, and may lead to a decrease in overall gun violence, he said. But he doesn’t believe these measures will prevent school shootings. “The thing to remember is that these are extremely rare events, and no matter what you can come up with to prevent it, the shooter will have a workaround,” Fox said, adding that over the past 35 years, there have been only five cases in which someone ages 18 to 20 used an assault rifle in a mass shooting.

Because as we and others have noted, it's impossible to legislate against evil. We can try to contain it, but those determined to cause harm will, indeed, find ways to avoid even the most stringent of laws in order to inflict harm.

Another item to consider in this debate is the odd, and somewhat disturbing, bipartisan White House meeting Wednesday on gun policy:

During the gathering at the White House of both GOP and Democratic lawmakers, the president showed an openness to expanding background checks, possibly raising the age to purchase AR-15 rifles and also overriding due process, if necessary, to take guns away from mentally ill people or those who have been red-flagged as potential dangers, as the admitted shooter in Parkland, Fla., two weeks ago had been.

Trump bluntly told GOP lawmakers that any effort to include a concealed-carry reciprocity measure with a gun bill would effectively sink its chances — which is because of firm opposition from Senate Democrats. But there were other moments where the president showed a naiveté of the lawmaking process, claiming that it would be easy to get 60 votes for a bill to pass the Senate, suggesting merging some incompatible ideas and chiding lawmakers for being too beholden to the National Rifle Association — a group from which he has enjoyed broad support and with whose leaders he remains particularly chummy. 

The National Rifle Association was not amused by the President's comments:

President Donald Trump's televised meeting Wednesday with lawmakers on gun control "made for great TV," a National Rifle Association spokesperson told CNN -- but the group was not entertained by the President's apparent sharp turn on policy.

"While today's meeting made for great TV, the gun-control proposals discussed would make for bad policy that would not keep our children safe," NRA public affairs director Jennifer Baker said. "Instead of punishing law-abiding gun owners for the acts of a deranged lunatic, our leaders should pass meaningful reforms that would actually prevent future tragedies."

If we have learned nothing else during Mr. Trump's time in office, it's that he has a habit of making statements that appear to signal a strong policy direction, only to change course later. Perhaps that will happen again here. If it doesn't, and what he said is, indeed, what he intends to push for in Congress, then the President will have committed a huge unforced error that could haunt him in 2020.


News reports indicate the President walked back his comments from Wednesday's meeting after he sat down for a discussion with NRA representatives on Thursday:

Just one day after putting the NRA on the defensive with stunning televised comments, President Trump has signaled in an Oval Office meeting that he doesn't want gun control, according to the NRA's top lobbyist.

Chris Cox, the executive director of the NRA's Institute for Legislative Action, tweeted late Thursday that "POTUS & VPOTUS support the Second Amendment, support strong due process and don’t want gun control."

I had a great meeting tonight with @realDonaldTrump & @VP. We all want safe schools, mental health reform and to keep guns away from dangerous people. POTUS & VPOTUS support the Second Amendment, support strong due process and don’t want gun control. #NRA #MAGA

— Chris Cox (@ChrisCoxNRA) March 2, 2018
About an hour later, Trump appeared to endorse Cox's version of events with a tweet of his own: "Good (Great) meeting in the Oval Office tonight with the NRA!"

Good (Great) meeting in the Oval Office tonight with the NRA!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 2, 2018

So a potential crisis with the GOP base looks to have been avoided. At least for now.