My wife came across a rather illuminating article over the weekend that comes, from all places, a Harvard instructor writing about gun control for the Washington Post. Rather than assume the mantle of the social justice warrior, though, David Ropeik approaches the subject from a statistical perspective, suggesting—perhaps too provactively for some delicate snowflakes—that the activists loudly screaming for even more restrictive gun laws in the wake of the Parkland shooting are cynically scaring people into believing that school shootings are a growing trend, when in fact they are exceedingly rare.
The Education Department reports that roughly 50 million children attend public schools for roughly 180 days per year. Since Columbine, approximately 200 public school students have been shot to death while school was in session, including the recent slaughter at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla. (and a shooting in Birmingham, Ala., on Wednesday that police called accidental that left one student dead). That means the statistical likelihood of any given public school student being killed by a gun, in school, on any given day since 1999 was roughly 1 in 614,000,000. And since the 1990s, shootings at schools have been getting less common.
The chance of a child being shot and killed in a public school is extraordinarily low. Not zero — no risk is. But it’s far lower than many people assume, especially in the glare of heart-wrenching news coverage after an event like Parkland. And it’s far lower than almost any other mortality risk a kid faces, including traveling to and from school, catching a potentially deadly disease while in school or suffering a life-threatening injury playing interscholastic sports.
In other words, the dangers of the things we do every day, the things we don’t even think about—driving, crossing the street, touching a doorknob that could be covered with nasty bugs—are far greater than some individual walking into a school and gunning down students. And yet we have our children go about their daily business without fear or fret, downplaying those risks because we know that it would be impossible for them to function in daily life if they spent every moment scared to death of everything that could potentially hurt them.
So why are people keeping them all riled up about guns?
Part of it is the fault of the media, who know that fear generates clicks and gets more viewers. In that respect, Parkland is no different from, say, the bird flu panic or the pink slime that supposedly went into Chicken McNuggets—stories that had virtually no impact on anyone’s safety, and yet were hyped to the hilt because they made for good copy. Most of it, however, is the intersectionality (if I may borrow an SJW term) between the narrative that both the mainstream media and gun control advocates want to push: If school shootings are preceived as rare, there is no urgency—no need for things to change RIGHT NOW—to make sweeping changes in policy based on the passions of the moment. If, on the other hand, school shootings are presented as an epidemic—well, an epidemic needs to be stamped out immediately, before the contagion of violence can spread any further.
It’s difficult to point out the utter cynicism of this ploy, particularly when young, telegenic kids are being put forth to literally—in their view, at least—March For Their Lives, while the shrewed political operatives who handle them fire back with, “Who cares about statistics? What if it was your kid?” It’s even more difficult when a compliant media also never asks tough question of these kids, presenting them as figures of absolute moral authority on the subject.
But you know what? Leftists actually do understand statistics—when they want to.
For instance, when President Trump pointed out that maybe it wasn’t such a good idea to import tens of thousands of Muslim refugees from parts of the Middle East that had a high incidence of terrorism, the left was very quick to point out that the odds of getting killed in a terrorist attack were extremely low—roughly one in twenty million, according to this estimate. They rightfully pointed out that your risk of dying from a slip in the bathtub was orders of magnitude higher. Banning these people, they argued, wouldn’t make Americans any safer.
But look at those numbers again:
- Odds of getting murdered by a terrorist: 1 in 20,000,000.
- Odds of getting murdered in a school shooting: 1 in 614,000,000.
Or, looking at it another way, your chance of being killed in a terrorist attack is 30.7 times higher than a student being killed by a school shooter.
Firearms ownership is a constitutional right. Being allowed to immigrate into the country is a privilege. And yet the left would have you believe that the federal government should curtail our Second Amendment rights while extending immigration privileges to everyone, regardless of the relative risk.
If this is what passes for critical thought on that side of the aisle, God help us if they ever get back any real power.