The Trump administration on Sunday announced the formation of a new school safety task force to evaluate ways to make U.S. students safer on campus. The committee will examine a diverse range of proposals, including arming teachers.
But are such extreme measures really necessary?
According to a recent study by researchers at Northeastern University in Boston, they’re not.
“There is not an epidemic of school shootings,” said James Alan Fox, a professor of criminology, law, and public policy.
Contrary to the alarming statistics widely reported earlier this year, which included a variety of incidents that did not affect students, school shootings remain rare, Fox’s research revealed. Since 1996, records show 16 school shootings that involved multiple victims and at least two deaths. Of those, only eight qualified as mass shootings, incidents that included four or more deaths. During the past 25 years, 10 students died each year, on average, as a result of gunfire on campus.
Fox notes more children die each year from pool drownings and bicycle accidents. And the frequency of school shootings has declined since the 1990s, which saw four times more students die in school shootings than today.
Education and government officials should still consider ways to make students safer, Fox said, but they need to approach the task with realistic expectations.
“The thing to remember is that these are extremely rare events, and no matter what you can come up with to prevent it, the shooter will have a workaround,” he said.
Lawmakers in several states are considering raising the age to buy rifles, the mass shooting weapon of choice, from 18 to 21. But Fox noted only five mass shootings in the last 35 years involved a shooter younger than 21. Installing physical security measures such as barriers and metal detectors have also proven ineffective, Fox said.
Despite the evidence, lawmakers continue to debate new security measures, and parents continue to fear for their students’ lives. One company is cashing in on the alarm with bulletproof backpacks, although the Justice Department recently pilloried claims the bags passed any kind of official safety rating certification. And around the country, parents and officials are lobbying for more police officers on campus, a measure promoted by Florida Gov. Rick Scott after 19-year-old Nikolas Cruz killed 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., on Feb. 14.
But Stoneman Douglas had a sheriff’s deputy on campus, and that didn’t stop what became the deadliest high school shooting in U.S. history. Still, it’s hard to listen to pleas from grieving parents and shrug off attempts to do something to prevent another tragedy.
Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, charged with leading the Trump administration’s new school safety commission, vowed Sunday to fight for “every student and teacher to have a safe environment. “We will bring together a wide array of practitioners, including teachers, those on the front lines, to help identify best practices and solutions that are working in communities and states across the country,” she said.