A non story about US school shootings

In the absence of any dramatic school shootings that might further the anti-gun agenda, US campaigners calling for a ban on weapons invented a non-story last week: that 28 have been killed in 44 US school shootings since the Newtown massacre in 2012. In case you have trouble adding up, that’s more than the 26 that died at Newtown. As the Guardian’s Ed Pilkington said without a trace of hyperbole, gun violence is ‘erupting in America’s schools and colleges at a rate of more than three incidents a month’.

The report was launched with appropriate pomp in Washington at a rally organised by two groups: Mayors Against Illegal Guns, a group founded by billionaire ex-New York mayor Mike Bloomberg, who likes guns even less than he does large fizzy drinks; and a new ‘grassroots’ organisation, Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense headed by a stay-at-home mum who happens to have 15 years worth of experience of corporate public relations. Democratic Senator Chris Murphy intoned at the rally: ‘While only a handful of people have been killed or hurt in these incidents, it is just a matter of time before another Newtown happens.’ Murphy appeared almost impatient for the next massacre to occur in order to further the anti-gun agenda.

Some of the arguments put forward at the rally might at first appear like common-sense. Background checks are one example. President Obama has insisted they are effective: ‘The law already requires licensed gun dealers to run background checks, and over the last 14 years that’s kept 1.5million of the wrong people from getting their hands on a gun.’ Upon investigation, however, nearly all of these were false positives. The 1.5million Obama refers to were initial denials and simply delayed legitimate purchases by law-abiding citizens with names similar to felons and others on the prohibited list. In 2010, there were 76,142 initial denials, but even after just the preliminary review by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms, there were only 4,732 cases left. Further reviews by the bureau’s field offices and the Department of Justice left only 62 cases to be referred to prosecutors, and only 13 were strong enough to produce a conviction.

Further investigation shows how unusual school tragedies like Newtown are. Though the deaths listed are no doubt horrifying individual tragedies, 28 deaths in 14 months means they are incredibly rare. According to the National Center for Educational Statistics, there were 75,900,000 people enrolled in educational institutions in the United States in 2010, of which 55,350,000 were enrolled in K-12 schools (for ages 5-18). The rate of homicide at school is approximately one homicide or suicide per 2.7million school-age students in 2009-10, according to the Centers for Disease Control. To put that in perspective, that rate is lower than that of any country in the world that records homicides. The UK’s overall rate of homicide (the UK’s total population is similar to America’s K-12 enrolment combined with the number of teachers employed) is 32-times higher and the America’s overall homicide rate is 127-times higher. Ergo, American schools are incredibly safe places.

In fact, in the United States children are ten times more likely to be killed at home by a parent (in half the cases, the mother) than they are to be killed at school. This raises a question of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense: wouldn’t it make more sense for gun owners to lobby on Capitol Hill against mothers who viciously kill their children at home? They could call it Gun Sense Demand Action Against Murdering Moms.

Kevin Yuill teaches American studies at the University of Sunderland. His latest book, Assisted Suicide: The Liberal, Humanist Case Against Legalisation, is published by Palgrave Macmillan. (Buy this book from Amazon (UK).)

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