POLITICS

Don't Be Fooled. Homicides In Schools Are Still Rare.

School violence tends to follow national crime trends, experts say.

On Thursday, Chris Harper-Mercer, 26, brought guns to Oregon’s Umpqua Community College and opened fire on unsuspecting students and instructors. He killed 10 people, including himself. 

One day earlier, a South Dakota student shot the principal at Harrisburg High School. The administrator, Kevin Lein, was wounded in the arm. 

On Sept. 22, a mother shot her children’s father at Central Elementary School in Statesville, North Carolina. He was critically wounded. 

There have been 45 shootings on school grounds so far in 2015, according to Everytown for Gun Safety, a group that advocates reforms to reduce gun violence. Yet the most recent federal data tells us that students still are just as unlikely to be victims of homicide in schools as they were in the past -- maybe even less so. 

The U.S. Department of Education’s latest data on K-12 school safety goes through the 2011-2012 school year, before the December 2012 Sandy Hook elementary school shooting in Connecticut that killed 20 children. From 1992 to the end of the 2012 school year, the data shows an overall decline in school-based homicides. During the 1992-1993 school year, 32 youths (aged 5 to 18) were slain at school. During the 2011-2012 school year, the number was 15.

For young students, the risk of homicide was far greater outside of schools. Only 1 percent of youth homicides took place at schools in 2011-12. 

Fewer students are bringing weapons to school than they were decades ago. In 1993, 11.8 percent of high school students reported that they had brought a weapon to school at least once in the previous 30 days. By 2013, this number had dropped to 5.2 percent.

Higher education was more complicated. Since 2001, the number of on-campus homicides has ebbed and flowed with no distinct trend. In 2013, there were 24 homicides on higher education campuses, according to the Office of Postsecondary Education. In 2001, this number was 18.

"Over the long term, schools are getting safer," Thomas Snyder, of the U.S. Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics, told The Huffington Post in 2014. "That doesn't mean there's not a lot of room for improvement." Snyder noted that school crime tends to reflect national crime trends.

School violence is “a small slice of the pie,” said Stephen Brock, a California State University, Sacramento, professor who has studied school violence. He said he suspects the public may perceive schools as less safe than they are due to the intense media coverage of school shootings, in part.

“One [shooting] is one too many -- don’t get me wrong," Brock said. "I think the outcry that this is horrible and horrendous is appropriately placed. But the objective fact is a school-aged youth is way more likely to be shot and killed in a restaurant or in their home than they are in school.”

Brock said he imagines media coverage around school shootings is partially due to the fact that they are rare, compared with instances of community violence.

“I think [people] have a skewed public perception that schools are fatally violent institutions, when in fact that couldn’t be farther from the case,” he said.

CONVERSATIONS