Everywhere, it seems, a school shooter is lurking around the next hallway. No wonder the most recent spate of mass shootings combined with the ensuing intense news coverage have caused people to lose perspective.
Santa Fe High School student Paige Curry in Texas told KPRC-TV immediately following the latest school shooting last week that she was not surprised. “It’s been happening everywhere. I’ve always kind of felt that eventually it would happen here, too,” she said.
Of course, Curry can be forgiven for the reaction.
She’s a teenager who had just been through a trauma.
But adults who should know better have had the same reaction to the shooting that left 10 dead and another 13 wounded.
The Washington Post, for example, published a much-shared story reporting that shooting deaths at American schools so far in 2018 exceed military deaths.
Imam Muhammad Musri, president of an organization called American Islam, used a YouTube video to call on parents to keep their children at home — “where they are safe” — until Congress passes gun control laws.
A pair of education officials in Barack Obama’s administration picked up on the same idea. Peter Cunningham, who served as assistant secretary of education, tweeted on Friday that perhaps it was time for the parents of America’s 50 million schoolchildren to “simply pull their kids out of school until we have better gun laws.”
Former Department of Education Secretary Arne Duncan, endorsed the idea on Twitter: “This is brilliant, and tragically necessary. What if no children went to school until gun laws changed to keep them safe? My family is all in if we can do this at scale.”
Even one shooting death at a school is a tragedy. But if Duncan, Cunningham and Musri had their way, the result likely would be far more deaths. That’s because, statistically speaking, there are few safer places for a child to be than at school.
Data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) clearly show that school-age children die every year in far greater numbers outside of school in a variety of ways.
Take a look at the raw data. According to statistics compiled by The Washington Post, 80 students died in shootings at elementary, middle and high schools from 2000 to 2016. That includes 11 students who committed suicide.
Considering there are more than 50 million schoolchildren, that makes homicide victims in schools vanishingly rare.
Kids and Deaths
|Deaths of kids 5-18 from 2000-2016|
|Cause of Death||Number|
|Adverse Medical Care||421|
Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
At home or on the streets is where the vast majority of school-age homicide victims meet their end. The CDC data show that during the same time period, a total of 34,227 children ages 5 to 18 died from gunfire. Suicides made up nearly a third of that total, 10,779. Accidental gun deaths accounted for another 1,694 deaths.
In fact, data amassed by the Chicago Sun-Times show that more children ages 5 to 18 became homicide victims just in Chicago in 2016 — 113 — than perished in school shootings from 2000 through 2016 all across America.
But it is not just guns awaiting our progeny when they are not at school. The CDC statistics show children have died in much greater numbers due to a wide variety of more exotic causes of death. Some 8,555 drowned during that 17-year period. Of those, 155 were suicides. So more children intentionally drowned themselves than suffered fatal gunshots at school.
Drugs, not surprisingly, have been a big killer. From 2000 through 2016, 8,214 died from drug overdoses. And another 1,616 school-age children died from non-drug poisonings.
Falls claimed the lives of 1,939 children, while another 3,407 died in residential fires. A staggering 15,318 children died from suffocation, a category that includes strangulations, asphyxia and choking. And remember, the data do not encompass children younger than 5, so that does not include crib deaths.
Cuttings and piercings resulted in 2,319 deaths; machinery accidents took another 359 lives; and 800 died as a result of natural or environmental causes. Anther 7,075 died after getting run over by cars while walking. Nearly 2,000 kids — 1,964 — died on motorcycles, and 2,266 died on pedal cycles.
Medical care, statistically speaking, is riskier than braving the possibility that gunman will show up on campus. “Adverse medical care” claimed the lives of 421 children during the time period. That is nearly four times as many the number of school shooting victims.
Simple fights — not involving weapons — have caused more carnage than guns at school. During the tie period examined, according to the CDC, 878 children died as a result of being struck.
This year’s high death tolls in Parkland, Florida, and Santa Fe, Texas, bump up the death tally and make it marginally more likely — statistically — that a student will be shot dead at school.
But compared to all of the potential dangers that await off of school property, being in the classroom is hardly a risk at all.