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“The Difference Between Three Dead And Four Dead”: Here’s Why No One Can Agree On The Number Of Mass Shootings

Depending on where you get your news, Thursday’s shooting at Umpqua Community College in Roseburg, Oregon, was the 294th mass shooting, the 295th, or the 45th school shooting of the year. As Dave Cullen wrote in New Republic, news outlets will get the facts wrong in the immediate aftermath of an attack, but the conflicting news reports point to a more serious problem in America’s discussion of its gun problem. Gun control advocates rely heavily on the shocking numbers to make their case, but statistical discrepancies allow opponents to easily undermine the arguments. There’s no case to be made when everyone gets to view the evidence on their own terms.

The confusion stems from varying governmental categorizations. There are mass murders and mass killings, active shooters and serial killers, mass shootings and mass public shootings. For instance, Mass Shooting Tracker, a crowd-sourced website that many news outlets use, defines a mass shooting as one with “four or more people shot in one event.” In other words, they include incidents in which four people are wounded, but no one is killed. Accordingly, the database considers the Umpqua shooting the 295th mass shooting of the year.

The FBI, by contrast, doesn’t have an official definition of “mass shooting” on the books, but in 2014 defined a “mass killing” as one with three or more fatalities in a report about active shooters—“an individual actively engaged in killing or attempting to kill people in a confined and populated area,” like at Columbine or Newtown. Using the three-fatality threshold, the Oregon shooting is the 54th mass killing of 2015. But in July, the Congressional Research Service (CRS) defined a mass shooting as a homicide in which four or more people are killed with firearms—a definition based on the FBI’s definition of a “mass murder” as opposed to a “mass shooting.” Under that definition, the Oregon shooting is the 32nd such incident in 2015.

The conflation of “active shooter,” “mass murder,” and “mass shooting” has allowed the gun lobby to discredit statistics that point to the need for further control. The 2014 FBI report showed that active shooting incidents were increasing, but the NRA and other groups complained that this did not necessarily mean mass shootings were also increasing. Opponents of gun control can claim, like Jeb Bush did on Friday, that “stuff happens,” implying such incidents are just a fact of modern life.

Similarly, Northeastern University criminologist James Alan Fox has said that the inclusion of statistics from the FBI’s “active shooter” report gives the false impression that incidents are rising when they are not. “A majority of active shooters are not mass shooters,” Fox told Time. “A majority kill fewer than three.” On Friday, Fox wrote in USA Today that “media folks reminded us of the unforgettable, high profile shootings that have taken place over the past few months, hinting of a problem that has grown out of control… as if there is a pattern emerging.”

Fox is correct in pointing out that “active shooters” and “mass shootings” are not the same thing. But other statistics, including a Harvard analysis, show that mass shootings—in which four people were killed—have increased in frequency. The July CRS report also indicated that mass shooting incidents are also becoming deadlier.

Of course, no matter which definition—and which statistics—you choose, America’s gun violence is appalling. The difference between three dead and four dead might be statistically significant, but is morally negligible. Just hours after the Oregon shooting, a man shot dead his wife and two others, and injured a fourth person, in North Florida. On Friday, five people were shot outside a Baltimore shopping center. The Mass Shooting Tracker total is now at 297.


By: Gwyneth Kelly, Reporter-Researcher at the New Republic, October 2, 2015

October 4, 2015 Posted by | Gun Lobby, Gun Violence, Mass Shootings | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“We Can’t Arrest Our Way To Safer Schools”: The Need For Proactive Work And Commitment By The Adults

Hard cases make bad laws. Policymakers’ overly punitive and police-centric response to high profile school shootings demonstrate this fact. But if you have doubts, ask the six-year-old child who was handcuffed to a chair as punishment after he got into a scuffle with another boy in the school cafeteria. If he doesn’t convince you, perhaps the scores of schoolchildren who police assaulted with pepper spray (while at school) will. Or talk to one of the 3.3 million public schoolchildren who are suspended from school each year, often as a consequence for minor rule breaking, such as talking back to teachers or fistfights.

Police presence in schools exploded in the post-Columbine era when well-intentioned policy makers wanted to take decisive action to ensure the safety of our schoolchildren and to protect them from school shootings. As an unintended consequence of this policy shift, countless schoolchildren have been targeted by school-based police officers (also known as school resource officers) and subjected to police brutality in their public school.

Some children escaped physical abuse, but may have seen their life chances evaporate when arrested at school for offenses like excessive flatulence or wearing the wrong color uniform.

Of course, not all school resource officers are out to arrest or brutalize students. A study by the University of Chicago found that those school resource officers who put down the pepper spray and handcuffs, and instead built relationships with students that allowed them to proactively identify and diffuse potentially violent situations, were far more effective at keeping the peace than those officers who always arrested students after an alleged incident.

We all want to prevent violence in our schools.  And thankfully, in the year since the Sandy Hook Shooting, the second worst school shooting in the history of the United States, more school districts shied away from Columbine-era solutions. Schools districts across the country are recognizing that they cannot  arrest their way to safer schools. Not only that, but schools are beginning to recognize that reforming overly-punitive and police centric school discipline policies will help improve academic achievement and reform the racial disparities that still exist in our public schools.

In response to allegations that African-American schoolchildren were unfairly targeted for harsh punishment, the Memphis Police and the Memphis City Schools entered into an agreement that ensures children are not arrested for minor offenses that occur on school grounds, but are instead subject to sanctions that will not interrupt their education, like community services or restitution. During the first year of this agreement, 1,000 fewer children have been imprisoned in Memphis and the city’s crime rates have significantly decreased.

Broward County Florida recently adopted a similar model in an effort to reduce the number of children arrested at school, improve its dropout rate and eliminate the achievement gap that leaves many black male children behind.

For years, families in Meridian Mississippi decried the discipline system in the public schools there for discriminating against African-American children by pushing them out of school for behavior that was overlooked when committed by white students. Finally, this year, the U.S. Department of Justice found that  Meridian Public Schools, subjected black students to “harsher consequences, including longer suspensions, than white students for comparable misbehavior, even where the students were at the same school, were of similar ages, and had similar disciplinary histories.” The school district agreed to a remedy that practically eliminates the role of law enforcement in school discipline.

Despite the positive trend of reducing the traditional “lock ’em up” police presence in schools, the federal government recently made $45 million available for new school resource officer positions around the country. If past is prologue, this influx of officers policing our public schoolchildren will result in another wave of abuse and countless children put out of school and arrested for minor misbehavior. This is not the fault of the officers. They are placed into our schools with the tools to police — not to resolve conflict or to interact with children.

But what is perhaps most disturbing is that the increased police presence won’t just cause harm to some students — there’s no evidence that it will keep any students safer. A recent report by the civil rights organization the Advancement Project notes that most school based attacks are not halted by school resource officers — but instead end with the intervention of school administrators, educators or students.

The Advancement Project report further documents that safe schools don’t result from merely posting a police officer in the halls. Instead, a truly safe school must create support networks, foster peer relationship building, provide ready access to counseling services and facilitate parental involvement. These are the kind of schools that create positive, affirming environments and use restorative justice and conflict resolution to resolve disputes that will inevitably occur.

In schools that have this sort of environment, administrators and yes, law enforcement, are able to use their relationships to anticipate and diffuse potential acts of violence. Demonstrating each day the value and worth of each student and creating a school-based, community-built on a culture of trust and mutual support — these are the most effective weapons we have to protect students from violence in our schools.

No school should add another police officer to its ranks without first adopting Advancement Project’s recommendations, taking action to evaluate its environment and reforming the ways it falls short of creating a school climate that truly facilitates student safety.

Moving forward, the U.S. Department of Justice should only provide school resource officer funding to those school districts that have taken the proactive steps to both create a culture of safety and to ensure that school resource officers receive appropriate training. Organizations like Strategies for Youth train “public safety officers in the science of child and youth development and mental health, and supports communities partnering to promote strong police/youth relationships.”

These are not the kind of reforms that are sound-bite worthy. They are the kind of reforms that will require a tremendous amount of work and commitment on behalf of the adults that work in our nation’s school districts. But they are the only kind of reforms that will produce safer schools.

Merely adding cops to schools with toxic safety climates will only create more danger for our schoolchildren. And that outcome must be avoided at all costs.


By: Shelia A. Bedi, U. S. News and World Report, December 14, 2013

December 15, 2013 Posted by | Gun Violence | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“A Shameful Day For Washington”: The NRA Willfully Lied On Guns

Speaking just minutes after a minority in the Senate killed a bipartisan bill to expand background checks on gun sales — something 90 percent of Americans support — President Obama stood in the Rose Garden in front of weeping gun violence victims, including former Rep. Gabby Giffords, to give a searing indictment of the forces that just blocked even this modest reform.

Showing flashes of anger and passion rare for this president, Obama laid into the National Rifle Association and Senate Republicans, saying they “willfully lied on this bill,” especially by erroneously claiming the bipartisan background check legislation known as Manchin-Toomey would create a national gun registry when, in fact, the bill made creating one a felony punishable by 15 years in prison. Even though politicians lie all the time, the word “lie” is almost never uttered in public discourse in Washington, let alone by the president, underscoring his unusual anger.

“Unfortunately, this pattern of spreading untruths about this legislation served a purpose. Those lies upset an intense minority of gun owners and that in turn intimidated a lot of senators,” Obama said. “There were no coherent arguments as to why we shouldn’t do this, it came down to politics.”

He even took a highly unusual shot at four senators in his own party who voted against the amendment to expand background checks out of fears that the gun lobby would come after them, saying, “Republicans had that fear, but Democrats had that fear too. So they caved to the pressure. And they started looking for an excuse — any excuse — to vote no.”

“Too many senators,” Obama said, “failed” their test of leadership. Behind him parents of children killed at Sandy Hook and in other massacres visibly wept.

But he reserved special criticism for Sen. Rand Paul, who said Obama was using gun violence victims as “props.” “Are they serious?” Obama said of Paul’s comments without mentioning him by name. “Do they really think that thousands of families whose lives have been shattered by gun violence don’t have a right to weigh in on this issue?”

“So all in all, this was a pretty shameful day for Washington,” Obama concluded, before promising to try again and asking citizens to put pressure on their members of Congress.

Indeed, after Columbine in 1999, when Republicans in the Senate killed a robust bill to expand background checks, the public outcry was so strong that they immediately backtracked and approved a stronger bill (it later died in the House).


By: Alex Seitz-Wald, Salon, April 17, 2013

April 18, 2013 Posted by | Gun Violence, National Rifle Association | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Let’s Talk About Guns”: Why New Gun Control Is Not Likely To Follow Tragedy

Before the sun had even risen in Aurora, Colo., the shooting there last night had reignited the debate over gun control, with New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, one of the country’s most outspoken advocates of gun regulations, demanding action. While it may seem a bit crass to turn to politics so soon, it is worth asking how this could happen less than 30 minutes away from Littleton, the Colorado town where the 1999 Columbine high school massacre left a lasting scar on the state and the country for years.

While the emotional damage from Columbine may linger, its policy effects did not. After the school shooting, the state legislature, like many across the country, pushed a flight of bills aimed at making it more difficult for kids to get hold of guns. Lawmakers sought to close the “gun show loophole,” which allows people who buy guns at conventions, instead of brick-and-mortar retailers, to avoid a background check. They also aimed for a law requiring guns to be stored with trigger locks or in safes at home, and tried to increase the age someone could buy a handgun from 18 to 21.

But a year later, almost all of these bills had been shot down thanks to effective lobbying from the NRA and other gun groups. The only laws that passed were token ones the gun lobby supported, like allowing police to arrest people who knowingly purchased guns for criminals. The NRA spent $16,950 in January of 2000 alone fighting gun laws. “[It’s a] tremendous amount of money,” Pete Maysmith of Colorado Common Cause, a government watchdog group, told CBS News in February of that year. “$16,000 in one month going into the Colorado Legislature — it’s a financial arms race.”

More than a decade after Columbine, gun laws across the country are more lax than ever. Opponents of gun control say legislation wouldn’t have prevented the Columbine massacre or any other major shooting, which may be true to varying degrees, depending on the shooting. Early reports indicate the suspect in last night’s theater shooting had an AK-47-type weapon, some variants of which were outlawed under the Federal Assault Weapons Ban. That law was signed by President Clinton in 1994 but expired 10 years later and is not likely to be reauthorized.

The Washington Post’s Chris Cillizza, writes today, “If history is any guide, however, the Aurora shootings will do little to change public sentiment regarding gun control, which has been moving away from putting more laws on the books for some time.” Indeed, the experience after the Columbine shooting shows he may be right.


By: Alex Seitz-Wald, Salon, July 20, 2012

July 21, 2012 Posted by | Gun Violence | , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments


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