Have there been 18 school shootings in 2018, or five? Either way, it's too damn many

Campaign Action

Ah, clickbait headlines. They exist for “Wow! That’s amazing/terrible/unbelievable” claims and attempted take-downs of those amazing/terrible/unbelievable claims alike. Witness the Washington Post’s “No, there haven’t been 18 school shootings in 2018. That number is flat wrong.” What we have here is an argument about methodology, with a headline presented as myth-busting hard facts.

The 18 school shootings in 2018 figure comes from Everytown for Gun Safety, which is transparent about its definition of a school shooting as “any time a firearm discharges a live round inside a school building or on a school campus or grounds.” Other groups have other methods for counting school shootings, which could also be reasonable to use.

But in their zeal to prove that the 18 number is “flat wrong,” John Woodrow Cox and Steven Rich get awfully flippant about cases they would dismiss as not really school shootings. The one where a man committed suicide on the grounds of a school that had been closed for months? Agreed we can dismiss that as a school shooting. But:

A week later, as a basketball game was being played at a Michigan high school, someone fired several rounds from a gun in the parking lot. No one was injured, and it was past 8 p.m., well after classes had ended for the day, but Everytown still labeled it a school shooting.

If there was a basketball game going on, there were students on the premises, right? So the fact that classes had ended for the day is a distraction. There were students there! Shots were fired, and it’s luck that no one was injured. Or take this:

On Feb. 5, a police officer was sitting on a bench in a Minnesota school gym when a third-grader accidentally pulled the trigger of his holstered pistol, firing a round into the floor. None of the four students in the gym were injured, but, again, the incident was probably scary.

If by “probably scary” you mean “children could have been killed,” then yes.

It’s reasonable to prefer a more conservative count of school shootings. But trying to define it down as these authors do, to “Just five of Everytown’s 18 school shootings listed for 2018 happened during school hours and resulted in any physical injury,” is to say that a school shooting doesn’t count if the would-be shooter has bad aim. Also, holy crap! It is mid February and there have been five school shootings in 2018 that injured people! Being all “well, actually” dismissive about this is not a good look, even if it does make for a clickbaity headline.