A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

Spinning Statistics on School Shootings


Q: Have there been 74 school shootings since the Sandy Hook Elementary shooting in Connecticut?

A: No. The group making this claim uses a broad definition that more than doubles the number of school shootings.

FULL QUESTION

I’d really like to see an article on this “74 School shootings since Sandy Hook” stat that’s getting traction today. It seems misleading to me, at the very least. First, it includes grade schools, elementary schools and colleges. It also doesn’t seem to distinguish between a student at college accidentally discharging his gun in his dorm room, a child committing suicide in a school bathroom, two adults playing basketball after school hours who get into a fight that ends in gun violence, a fight between two students that ends in one of them firing a gun, a mass shooting, etc.

FULL ANSWER

The claim that there have been 74 school shootings since the Dec. 14, 2012, shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, comes from a report by Everytown for Gun Safety, whose mission is to “end gun violence and build safer communities.” President Barack Obama appeared to reference the group’s report in a June 10 Q&A with David Karp, the CEO of Tumblr, when Obama said that school shootings happen “once a week.” At that point, there had been 78 weeks since the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, meaning that, according to Everytown for Gun Safety, school shootings have occurred almost weekly.

The group’s list (as of June 10), however, overstates the number of school shootings by including incidents such as accidental discharges of firearms, suicide attempts and incidents in which no involved party was affiliated with the school. The group’s broad definition of “school shooting” is published at the bottom of the report:

Everytown for Gun Safety: Incidents were classified as school shootings when a firearm was discharged inside a school building or on school or campus grounds, as documented in publicly reported news accounts. This includes assaults, homicides, suicides, and accidental shootings. Incidents in which guns were brought into schools but not fired there, or were fired off school grounds after having been possessed in schools, were not included.

FactCheck.org has written before about inflated claims of school shootings. In a Dec. 20, 2012, article after the Sandy Hook shooting, we reviewed Rep. Donna Edwards’ claim that “since Columbine, there have been 181 of these school shootings.” Edwards based her claim on information from the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, which at the time reported that there had been 201 “major school shootings” since 1997. We reviewed the Brady Campaign list and documented 62 “major school shootings” — not 181 — since the Columbine High School massacre on April 20, 1999. For that article, we defined “major school shooting” as any shooting “that resulted in more than one student, teacher or school employee being killed or injured,” since Edwards was referring to mass shootings.

For this new claim, we asked the Brady Campaign for an updated list of “major school shootings.” The Brady Campaign defines “major school shooting” as any incident in which “the shooter was directly linked to the school and at least one person was shot on school property.” It listed 33 school shootings since the Sandy Hook shooting on Dec. 14, 2012, to June 10, 2014.

But we found that three of the 33 shootings on the Brady Campaign list did not fit the group’s own definition. A Nov. 13, 2013, shooting in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, involved Brashear High School students, but it occurred a quarter-mile from the high school — not on campus. Two other shootings occurred on university campuses, but did not involve anyone “directly linked” to the schools. A Jan. 16, 2013, shooting at Chicago State University involved a high school student (the victim) and two adults (the suspects) who had no connection to the school. Similarly, a Jan. 28, 2014, shooting at Tennessee State University did not involve anyone affiliated with the university.

That reduced the number of school shootings, by the Brady Campaign’s count, to 30.

However, in reviewing the list published by Everytown, we found that there are four incidents that meet the Brady Campaign’s criteria but do not appear on the Brady Campaign’s list. Two incidents, those that occurred at Madison Parish High School in Louisiana and Union University in Tennessee, involved students of the school who were both victims and suspects. Two additional incidents, those at New River Community College in Virginia and Edison High School in California, occurred on campus, and the suspects were students at the school.

Everytown for Gun Safety is, of course, free to use whatever definition of “school shooting” it desires. But we find the group’s methodology overstates the number of school shootings. By our count, as of June 10, 2014, there had been 34 school shootings — not 74 — since the Sandy Hook shooting on Dec. 14, 2012.

Alexander Nacht

Sources

Vogel, Steve. “Sandy Hook Elementary shooting leaves 28 dead, law enforcement sources say.” Washington Post. 14 Dec 2012.

Everytown for Gun Safety. “School Shootings in America Since Sandy Hook.” 10 Jun 2014, accessed 16 Jun 2014.

Everytown for Gun Safety. “We Are Everytown for Gun Safety.”

White House. “Remarks by the President in Q&A with David Karp, CEO of Tumblr.” 10 Jun 2014.

LEX 18. Police Investigate Accidental Shooting At Georgetown College. Video. 10 May 2014.

Christiansen, Barbara. “Student shoots himself at Provo High, didn’t target others.” Daily Herald. 21 Apr 2014.

Farley, Robert, et al. “Gun Rhetoric vs. Gun Facts.” FactCheck.org. 20 Dec 2012.

Brady Campaign. “Our History.”

Encyclopaedia Britannica. “Columbine High School shootings.”

Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence. “Major School Shootings in the United States since 1997.” Email sent to FactCheck.org. 12 Jun 2014.

Pierre, Jeremy. “Madison Parish High student is arrested after shooting.” KNOE. 9 Mar 2014.

Allen, Bob. “Union University murder suspect gets mental evaluation.” ABPnews/Herald. 7 Mar 2014.

Botelho, Greg, et al. “Police: Student shot 2 women at Virginia community college before being subdued.” CNN. 12 Apr 2013.

CBS Sacramento. “4 Arrested In Shooting Of Fresno High School Teacher.” 25 Dec 2013.

Navratil, Liz. “Police arrest suspected gunman from shooting outside Pittsburgh Brashear High School.” Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. 14 Nov 2013.

Rodriguez, Meredith. “Family of teen killed after basketball game sues Chicago State, CPS.” Chicago Tribune. 17 Jan 2014.

Young, Kevin. “TSU officials: No one associated with university involved in shooting.” WSMV. 28 Jan 2014.

Koenig, Seth. “Police release name of teen who shot himself during homecoming festivities in Gray.” Bangor Daily News. 30 Sep 2013.