Guest Editorial: No easy answer to gun violence
To feel horror after a school shooting is natural. But policy responses must be based on facts, first and foremost, and address the root causes of these events. Downplaying cold analysis to placate the heated emotions of the moment seldom leads to good outcomes.
Thus, the findings of James Alan Fox, the Lipman Family Professor of Criminology, Law and Public Policy at Northeastern University, and doctoral student Emma Fridel should be taken into account. In a preview of research to be published later this year, Fox and Fridel provide important data on mass shootings and proposed responses.
Common perception holds school shootings have increased in frequency. Fox and Fridel found otherwise. They concluded shooting incidents involving students have been declining since the 1990s when four times the number of children were killed in schools than today.
That conclusion came after reviewing data collected by USA Today, the FBI's Supplementary Homicide Report, Congressional Research Service, Gun Violence Archive, Stanford Geospatial Center and Stanford Libraries, Mother Jones, Everytown for Gun Safety, and a New York Police Department report on active shooters.
Since 1996, Fox and Fridel determined there have been 16 multiple victim shootings in schools, which they defined as incidents involving four or more victims and at least two deaths by firearms, excluding the assailant. Of that number, eight events were also defined as mass shootings involving four or more deaths.
In an interview posted by Northeastern, Fox bluntly declared, "There is not an epidemic of school shootings."
That of course doesn't lessen the heartbreak for parents whose children are killed at a school or those who naturally worry now as they send children to school each day. So how to prevent future shootings? The data suggests that will not be easy.
Fox and Fridel support some proposed responses, including a ban on bump stocks that are used to increase the rate of fire for a rifle, raising from 18 to 21 the age to purchase a rifle, and increasing mental health resources. But they caution those policies will have limited impact. In the past 35 years, Fox notes, there have been only five cases where someone aged 18 to 20 used a rifle in a mass shooting.
What of increased security measures, such as metal detectors and armed guards? Fox and Fridel note shootings occurred despite such measures. In 1989, a shooter targeted children on a California playground. In Minnesota in 2005, a shooter first walked through a metal detector and shot a guard. In 1998, two students in Jonesboro, Arkansas pulled a fire alarm and shot students as they filed to the parking lot, as happened in Florida.
Thus, new government policies could have large financial costs but produce little benefit via reduced school shootings. Enforcing laws already on the books would help. New measures should target this problem from many angles (mental health, school security, etc.). And discontinuing the glorification of violence in all settings, particularly entertainment, would be especially worthwhile.
But associated safety improvements may occur only in small increments. To the frustration of all, it remains difficult to thwart a determined assailant and there's still no easy answer to the problem of evil.
The Oklahoman, March 6