America’s Children Are at Least 5 Times More Likely to Die from Gun Violence Outside School than at School (Per Hour)
And at least 50 times more overall. Then why are so many afraid of school shootings and not other firearm deaths? Answer: It’s news and social media that shape our perceptions. I did some math to help us out.
Another day. Another shooting. Another “problem” in the United States of America that obscures another, greater problem. I do think we have an ongoing gun crisis in the U.S. and I believe in AR-15 bans, expanded gun lock laws, and stricter background checks, but I think those actions are mostly symbolic. Gun legislation would show we as a nation actually care. But it won’t affect gun deaths as much as many believe they would. One reason is because school shootings and mass shootings combined make up far less than 1% of all gun violence. And we would still be left with enough guns lying around for every man, woman and child in the U.S.
If people with ill intentions want guns, they’ll find a way to get them. But as a society we shouldn’t make it easy for them.
I did some calculations two days after yet another mass shooting in a public school where 10 died in Sante Fe, Texas. My conclusions: American adolescents are at least 5 times more likely to be killed by guns outside of school than by shootings inside school (per hour spent outside vs. inside). That means schools are 5 times safer than anywhere else. This is using New York Times data as presented by Politifact indicating we’ve had more than 7,000 gun deaths of children since the Sandy Hook massacre compared to 138 fatalities in school shootings over the same period. I calculated also that a child from their time of birth to age 18 will spend approximately 10% of their time on school grounds. In sum totals without controlling for time and where youth spend it, gun-related outcomes are 50 times more lethal outside school walls. [See my full math at the bottom of this post.]
Additionally, using a separate analysis by another media heavyweight Time from February after the Parkland, Florida shootings — which shows only 35 children shot and killed at schools since Sandy Hook — the difference could be 20 times more gun deaths happening outside school per hour (and more than 200 times more death in total). Though, obviously, the 8 students (and two teachers) killed in Friday’s shooting in Texas wouldn’t be included.
In concrete terms, for every 8 youth we grieve on a national level in school shootings, there are another 400 (or possibly up to 1600) child deaths from guns we don’t hear about.
Either way, it’s obvious that perceptions are getting out-of-hand and media should making more of an effort to contextualize the problem of gun violence and where threats come from. When 2% of adolescent gun violence is occurring at schools, it’s still important to push for keeping guns far from children and those likely to commit horrific misdeeds — but maybe we can also focus on the other 98% of carnage.
But what do we get from the preeminent leader in media, The New York Times? We get this terrifying headline and story of scared youth nationwide on May 20: New Reality for High School Students: Calculating the Risk of Getting Shot. Guess what? They don’t really calculate the risk.
Traditionally, the media is more interested in playing up fears of mass shootings — admittedly a symbiotic relationship with the American and global audience — than to contextualize honestly. Thus, it all leads up to sentiments such as this young female student in Santa Fe, Texas, speaking to a New York Times reporter:
This quote from a Santa Fe High School student prompted me to write this piece. It’s unfortunate youth have to face lethal gun violence, obviously. It’s also unfortunate when they actually expect it in their schools, even though the odds of it happening is no more more than 1 in 5000 (less than 20 deadly incidents annually in a nation of 100,000 public schools). There’s a feeling of an increasing drumbeat of parents afraid of sending their kids to school, and kids who feel the same. Though, Gallup poll data from a peak of 55% of of parents scared of their children’s safety in 1999 (post-Columbine) remained constant at around 3 out of 10 fearful parents until 2015. But should we be collectively freaked out if 4999 out of 5000 schools won’t have a deadly shooting this year — and even in those schools with a shooting, your child’s odds of survival are greater than 99%?
What is reality? Snopes pointed out that not every shooting is a “Columbine-style event” and that prominent oft-Tweeted gun-control groups like Everytown may inflate shooting incident totals by including: Suicides at schools that have been closed for months, accidental gun discharges, and after-hours shootings in parking lots. Basically, up to three-quarter of school shooting events lead to no deaths. However, a quick analysis of Wikipedia’s listing of school shootings show 10 fatal incidents so far in 2018, about double the pace of previous years. That is newsworthy, but it should be contextualized.
The Washington Post after Parkland admitted fatal school shooting are still incredibly uncommon. They wrote after horrific blood-bath in Parkland, Florida, “School shootings remain extremely rare, representing a tiny fraction of the gun violence epidemic that, on average, leaves a child bleeding or dead every hour in the United States.” Unfortunately, dozens of other tragedies go unheard or aren’t spoken about. I think they should — for the sake of gun reform.
The Post also wrote in mid-February why accuracy matters after Bernie Sanders and others Tweeted misleading Everytown data that said there had been 18 school shootings in 2018 in just over six weeks. “The figures matter because gun-control activists use them as evidence in their fight for bans on assault weapons, stricter background checks and other legislation,” wrote The Post. “Gun rights groups seize on the faults in the data to undermine those arguments and, similarly, present skewed figures of their own.” In the end, they calculated that just 5 of Everytown’s 18 school shootings listed for 2018 occurred during school hours and resulted in physical injury.
Just as knowing that flying in an airplane is more safe than driving, we must allow clear data to alleviate the stresses of modern daily life. Though, some people will always fear planes for many reasons, one of them is the perceived lack of control. But those same people don’t fear buses as much when others are driving; or when we drive ourselves amid thousands of other unknown drivers who could be drunk, texting, or just all-out incompetent behind the wheel. Humans don’t always reason this way, but for the sake of human progress, I think they should.
100 years ago we would barely know of some tragedy that happened a few miles away, except what a new story may write days or weeks later, or what a traveler may orally share when coming through town. Now we have 24/7 media and social media feeding our brain diet. I imagine it’s hard to “switch” what we fear, but I like to think statistical evidence can soothe the emotional part of our brain with the nutritional supplement of rational introspection.
In the end, people calling for gun legislation — like myself — need to stay true to the facts. And for those that believe we need more “good guys with guns” to save us, the facts are not on your side. A 2017 Scientific American meta-analysis found that 30 studies show more guns are linked to more crimes and far less research shows that guns help.
The more guns, the more deaths. It’s as simple as that. Alas, we don’t have a time machine to put that genie back in the bottle. But centuries from now, we can look back and say, “Yes, this generation finally said enough. Not just about mass shootings, but about ALL tragic gun deaths and violence.”
FEEL FREE TO DOUBLE-CHECK THIS MATH:
% OF TIME CHILDREN 0–18 SPEND AT SCHOOL:
% of time children are in school from age 0–18 = 10%
How I Got That:
180.4 days a year x 6.7 hours a day = 1,208 hours in school
24 hours x 365 days = 8,760 hours total per year
1,208 x 13 (years in school) = 15,704 hours spent in school total
Thus: Divide 15,704 hours spent in school by 157,680 total hours over 18 years and you get 10% of pre-adult life spent in a classroom.
GUN DEATHS OUTSIDE SCHOOLS vs. SCHOOL SHOOTING DEATHS:
There are more than 7,000 child gun deaths (homicides 53%, suicides 38%) since Sandy Hook compared to 138 people killed in school shootings (including adults). That’s 50 times more gun deaths.
Factor in the 10% of time kids spend at school. That’s approximately 10 times more more time spent outside of school. Divide 50 by 10 = 5
THUS: Children are 5 times more likely to be killed by guns outside of school than by shootings inside school (controlling for time spent in both).
(“The estimate for 7,000 child gun deaths traces back to a June 2017 study by Pediatrics, a peer-reviewed journal. It found that 1,300 children die from gunshot wounds every year. … The New York Times published an analysis of the number of people who have been shot in school shootings on Feb. 15, the day after the Parkland school shootings. Using data from the Gun Violence Archive, the Times found that 138 people have been killed in school shootings since Sandy Hook. That total includes school personnel who are not students, so the number of students would be even smaller.”)
(“When a gunman killed 20 first graders and six adults with an assault rifle at Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012, it rattled Newtown, Conn., and reverberated across the world. Since then, there have been at least 239 school shootings nationwide. In those episodes, 438 people were shot, 138 of whom were killed. The data used here is from the Gun Violence Archive, a nonprofit that began tracking school shootings in 2014, about a year after Sandy Hook.)
(“On average, from 2012 to 2014, nearly 1300 children (N = 1297) died each year in the United States from a firearm-related injury, for an annual crude rate of 1.8 per 100 000 (Table 1). Fifty-three percent of these were homicides (n = 693), 38% were suicides (n = 493), and 6% were unintentional firearm deaths (n = 82)”)
Hours children spend in public school on average: School year in days (180.4) and length of school day in hours (6.7):
BONUS DATA: 20 times more likely for children to die from guns outside of school hours?
Time puts total deaths at 35 total children being killed since Sandy Hook in 2013. That’s 4 times lower than New York Times’ analysis. Thus, it’s possible children can be as much as 20 times more vulnerable to gun violence outside of schools.
“All told, since 2013 we counted 6 adults and 35 children killed in these types of school shootings, as well as 12 adults and 92 children injured. This count contrasts sharply with a New York Times analysis of the Gun Violence Archive, which tallied 239 school shootings since 2014, including those on college campuses, resulting in 138 deaths. The Times does not published information on individual incidents for comparison to EveryTown, but does not appear to be limited only to cases of malicious intent. If school shootings of any variety are going to be seriously addressed, it is important to parse the different reasons that these incidents occurred, and what if anything motivated the shooter. Clearer data would be a good first step.”