School and Mass Shooting Data Are Wrong


Data on school and mass shootings are often wrong and continue a history of misinformation when it comes to crimes against children.


One of the benefits being retired from the justice system is that I’m free to tell the truth, at least as I see it.

Many of the discussions we have today about policing or corrections are simply wrong and the data proves it. The problem is when the data itself is incorrect.

Most believe that we live in dangerous times where we expect many schools to be invaded by gunmen, according to media interviews of students and staff. We concurrently believe that mass shootings are frequent events.

Both perceptions are wrong and create unjustifiable fear on the part of students, parents and the larger society.

School Shootings

From The Crime Report: This spring the U.S. Education Department said that in the 2015-2016 school year, “nearly 240 schools … reported at least one incident involving a school-related shooting.” The total is far higher than most other estimates.

NPR reached out to every one of those schools and found that more than two-thirds of these reported incidents never happened. Child Trends, a nonpartisan nonprofit research organization, assisted NPR in analyzing data from the federal Civil Rights Data Collection.

Only 11 incidents were confirmed.

mass shootingsIn 161 cases, schools or districts said no incident took place or couldn’t confirm one. In at least four cases, something happened, but it didn’t meet the government’s parameters for a shooting. “When we’re talking about such an important and rare event, [this] amount of data error could be very meaningful,” says Deborah Temkin of Child Trends.

Asked for comment, the Education Department said it would update some of these data this fall.

NPR’s reporting highlights how difficult it can be to track school-related shootings and how researchers, educators and policymakers are hindered by a lack of data on gun violence. The Civil Rights Data Collection required every public school — more than 96,000 — to answer questions on a wide range of issues. One question was, “Has there been at least one incident at your school that involved a shooting (regardless of whether anyone was hurt)?”

The answer — “nearly 240 schools (0.2 percent of all schools)” — was published this spring. The government’s definition included any discharge of a weapon at school-sponsored events or on school buses. Even so, that would be a rate of shootings much higher than anyone else had ever found.

It’s also informative that crime in schools has decreased, Crime in America. That’s not an observation that most endorse.

public opinion

Four or Five Mass Shootings a Year – Not One a Day

While there is an increase in mass shootings, it’s certainly not the one a day figures often promoted by the media.

A “mass shooting” is defined as a multiple homicide incident in which four or more victims are murdered with firearms, within one event, and in one or more locations in close proximity. It does not include family-related and other felonies (street crime) events.

Some local and national media are still observing that crime in schools is increasing, and there is one mass shooting a day; all of which are incorrect.

The Data

From The Crime Report: The widely held belief that there is an upward trend in deadly massacres is a product of media misrepresentation and public misunderstanding.

In the past few years, following each major mass killing involving firearms, the print and electronic media, desperate for sidebar material to serve as an audience hook, have reported that over 300 mass shootings occur every year, nearly one a day.

Frightening figures like these are culled from the Gun Violence Archive with its alternative definition of mass shooting as four or more people shot, but not necessarily killed.

In fact, in nearly half of the Archive’s 1,333 mass shootings from 2014 through 2017, no one was killed, not even the gunman. And in over three-quarters of the cases, at most one person perished.

Congressional Research Service

Data from The Congressional Research Service tracks the increase in mass shootings going from one incident a year during the 1970’s to 4.5 incidents a year from 2010-2013.

While there is an increase, it’s certainly not the one a day figures being promoted via the media.


There are additional myths regarding stranger abductions of children and an epidemic of missing children, Washington Post.

There were panics regarding abducted children in the 1980’s and other times throughout our history until cooler minds started to debunk the rumors, Moral Panics.

Like the myth of stranger abductions of children, school and mass shootings are not the problem many are making it out to be.

While shootings are obviously of immense importance, overplaying the rate or number inflicts harm and makes life more difficult for students, parents, and others.


We used The Crime Report for several examples in this article.


Leonard Adam Sipes, Jr. – Retired federal senior spokesperson. Thirty-five years of award-winning public relations for national and state criminal justice agencies. Interviewed multiple times by every national news outlet. Former Senior Specialist for Crime Prevention for the Department of Justice’s clearinghouse. Former Director of Information Services, National Crime Prevention Council. Former Adjunct Associate Professor of criminology and public affairs-University of Maryland, University College. Former advisor to presidential and gubernatorial campaigns. Former advisor to the “McGruff-Take a Bite Out of Crime” national media campaign. Certificate of Advanced Study-Johns Hopkins University. You can contact me at [email protected]