A new report from National Public Radio — not exactly a right-leaning outlet — claims that the Department of Education and gun control activists have wildly overstated the number of school shootings that took place in 2017.
NPR conducted the study in partnership with Child Trends, which compiles and analyzes data about school-aged children, after realizing that no two outlets were able to provide an exact number of “school shootings” and that the number of school shootings varied widely from outlet to outlet.
The Department of Education reports that there were 235 school shootings during the 2015-2016 school year and told NPR that it relied on self-reported statistics from school districts.
But when NPR dug into the reported incidents, it could confirm just 11 school shootings. More than two thirds of the claimed school shootings “never happened” they said. In 161 of the reported incidents, school officials weren’t aware anything had happened. In four of the incidents, “something did happen, but it didn’t meet the government’s parameters for a shooting.”
The “235” number is cited often in regards to school shootings, but even major gun control advocacy organizations like Everytown for Gun Safety couldn’t confirm the government’s data. They found just 29 school shootings. The ACLU, which also conducted its own research, found “fewer than a dozen.”
The discrepancy harkens back to an earlier statistical error that blanketed social media in the days and weeks after the Parkland school shooting: that in the United States one school shooting happens, on average, every 2.5 days. A similar problem occurred after Santa Fe, when news outlets reported there had been “18 school shootings” from January through May of 2018.
The problem, NPR suggests, is that different statistical bodies define a “shooting” differently. The “2.5” number that surfaced after Parkland included any gun-related incident that occurred anywhere near a school, even if that incident was after school hours and did not involve a student. The “18” number defined non-mass shootings as “school shootings” in a similar way, mixing in gang violence.
The DOE’s numbers include mistakes made by school districts (one district reported 37 shootings when it meant to report 37 incidents of students possessing a knife, gun, or other weapon), and a number of incidents that are obviously not school shootings, including “a report of a toy cap gun fired on a school bus” and a student who “took a picture of himself at home holding a gun and posted it to social media.”
NPR suggests that the federal government needs to either improve its data collection policies or streamline reporting requirements for school districts to get better numbers.