Friday, January 4, 2013

Depressing statistics

My apologies for ignoring the blog this week. I've been battling some nasty bug, and just haven't had the energy to keep up my usual early-morning routine.

Yesterday, the Mayor asked me to do a little research for him.  We have been talking about school safety lately, and he was interested in the relative frequency of school shootings at high schools compared to middle schools and elementary schools. I thought that would be a 10 minute job, but it proved to be a little more complicated than I imagined.

While I could find lots of compilations with a simple Google search, I quickly noticed that not all of these lists agreed: there were shootings on some that were not on others, some of the dates didn't line up, and so forth.  In some cases, the details were too sketchy to determine how many people were killed or injured, or what kind of school it was, without further research.  There doesn't seem to be a definitive and authoritative tally, and most of these appear to be assembled from news reports around the country. I finally settled on three lists, and cross checked to try to get as close to a complete picture as I could.  While I imagine there still may be some missing data, here's the summary I put together for him of school shootings by school type over the past twenty years:


Steve said...

It's funny how the Internet has surpassed anything in the past in its ability to provide information quickly on nearly any subject. At the same time, that information is probably less reliable than many of the old fashioned sources. You can find data to back up nearly any argument if you look for a few seconds, and easily cite your sources, but that doesn't make it fact. That's why I seldom use statistics in posting an opinion on some issue, relying instead on logical arguments, knowing all along that sometimes things simply defy logic.

Anonymous said...

In Nebraska, during 2011, 181 people died and 16,108 were injured in traffic crashes.

One crash occurred every 16 minutes.

Forty-four people were injured each day in motor vehicle crashes in Nebraska during 2011 and one person was killed every 48 hours.

Anonymous said...

Let me guess, perhaps your boss is going to try and enact some sort of additional municipal gun control ordinance(s), before the May elections, and while his party has a solid majority on the City Council, and he was looking for stats to give him political cover, as well as to help him work concerned-about-electoral-blowback council members for votes as the aforementioned election approaches.

Anonymous said...

Has there ever been any thought to locating police and/or fire stations at some of the schools?

Steve said...

See, that's what I mean about statistics. People use them, intentionally or not, to distort the truth. I doubt very much if there was actually a crash every 16 minutes. If that were the case, you could avoid all crashes by avoiding travel for four minutes or so out of every hour; all you have to do is schedule around those 16 minutes occurrences. The same holds true for being killed on the road; just make sure you're not driving during that 48th hour since the previous fatality.

I'm being a bit facetious, here, but the point is, truth is not always in the statistics, but rather in interpreting them (assuming they are even accurate). In reality, there were probably multiple deaths on some days last year, and periods of several days or more when no one was killed.

If you want to use statistics to sell your argument, fine; but when you skew them in such a way to favor your point of view, smart people may consider you dishonest and disregard whatever it is you have to say.

I'm guessing anonymous @ 8:38 was simply trying to make a point about gun-control and how frivolous or hypocritical it is to worry about school shootings when traffic deaths take far more lives. There is point to be made, there; however, there are great differences between the two issues. It does not necessarily follow that we should forgo trying to stop school shootings simply because traffic crashes cost more lives.

Anonymous said...

I was very fortunate because I had a loving Father and Mother and many loving relatives.My Dad, Grand Dad and various Uncles taught me gun safety and handling from a very early age. Guns were a huge part of my growing up and played a part in our daily life on the family farm/ranch. Unlike the children of today I did not see daily gun violence on TV, in the movies or in violent video games.

More gun laws will NOT solve anything. In fact the government is totally useless in solving what is basically a MORALS problem. A STRONG family structure would eliminate a huge percentage of the problems in our society.

Gun Nut

Steve White said...

From the pie chart, you show 55 school shootings in 20 years. Let us assume for the moment that this is accurate -- we can all agree that perhaps a few were missed because they're not well documented enough to find them. But let's assume that the numbers are representative.

That's two and a half mass shootings per year in our schools in the country. 30 shootings in 20 years in the approximately 18,400 high schools in the U.S. Each is a tragedy, we all agree.

But look at that number: you are indeed more likely to lose your child in a traffic accident.

I trust that the good people of Lincoln will be reassured, not frightened, by your research. It pays to be prudent and careful. But we as a society need not behave like Chicken Littles. We likely need no new laws and no militarization of our schools.

James Pasternack said...

Whenever the "legitimate need" and "think of the children" is brought up, I constantly reply with alcohol. More readily available, less penalties for illegal possession and significantly more children killed as a result.

Unfortunately, some people place more value on one instance that kills 20 people than the thousands of instances that kill only one or two people.

If people truly want to "save the children", they should also be at the front lines of eliminating alcohol and the incidents around its use.

Concurrently, how about the mayor take a look at banning swimming pools. According to the Consumer Product Safety Commission an average of over 300 children die EVERY YEAR from In-Ground Pools alone.

Tom Casady said...


You can relax, we have no such intention. The Mayor just wanted to know how high schools, middle schools, and elementary schools compare as the location of shooting incidents.


Yes. In fact, we already have one, at Schoo Middle School. We formerly had one at Calvert Elementery School, but that was replaced when nearby Union College offered us some more convenient space. We also have school resource officers at each of the public high schools.

Mr. Pasternack,

During my term on Nebrasaka's Child Death Review Team, I was struck by the number of drownings of small children in particular. You can't very effectively lock up a backyard swimming pool. Firearms, however, are rather easy to secure against both the curious and the larcenous, with a decent safe.

Anonymous said...

"You can't very effectively lock up a backyard swimming pool."

You can mandate some hefty access restrictions though, effectively banning them for all with thin wallets. However, in-ground concrete pools tend to be on pretty upscale properties, and more money usually means more political pull. Local election campaigns around here are generally run on shoestring budgets, and one wouldn't want to alienate any potential donors. A Congressional campaign won't be made or broken over a $20K donation bundle, but that's a lot of cash to a city councilperson running for re-election.

Stranger said...

Statistics must be used with great care, and either with large numbers of "samples" - or to compare X today with X of some time past.

There a pair of data sets that use large numbers of samples to arrive at a conclusion. First, the overwhelming majority of "active killers," as mass murderers whose aim is to make themselves notorious before they end their own lives are known, have been using an SSRI, a "selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor," such as Prozac. At present. the total stands at 37 known users to 2 known non-users since 1988, and inquiries continue.

The second large data set is the prevalence of mass murders in so-called "gun free zones." There can be no doubt at all that placarded "gun free zones" are the active killers venue of choice.

Schools were declared gun-free zones by the "Gun Free Zone Act of 1990." Workplaces that are placarded "GFZ's" are another favorite target. Churches that do not allow guns are a favorite target. Placarded shopping malls are another favored venue for mass murder.

A bare handful of mass murders have occurred outside GFZ's, usually someone murdering many members of their own family.

But on the whole, we really need to look at those ending use of SSRI's and outlaw the murder magnets called "gun free zones."


Anonymous said...

Gun Nut,

I've been playing gun-violent video games since Wolfenstein 3D came out. Doom, Quake, Duke Nukem, Half-Life, Battlefield, COD, Killzone, ad infinitum, all the way to the present day. I've never had any suicidal or homicidal ideation at all. I've never assaulted anyone at all, or even pushed anyone around that wasn't a team sports opponent.

I'd lean more toward blaming the well-meaning but pollyannic and short-sighted de-institutionalization of psychotics, the "treat 'em & street 'em" ethos of the modern day, put that walking time bomb back out there, because it's cheaper - in the short term - than institutionalizing them for the long term.

RINGO said...

Just curious as to what the offender profiles are in each of the school related incidents? Just from what I've read it seems that those incidents involving high schools, the offenders were students, whereas the offenders from elementary schools and middle schools were not in anyway connected to the school or had a relationship with someone on the staff.

Again just curious as to what your research came up with.

Tom Casady said...


You are correct. High school and middle school, mostly students. Elementary schools, only one of five were students.

Anonymous said...

Since 1993, how many kids in Lincoln have been killed by their mother's boyfriend?

Anonymous said...

In response to 11:53,
I'm glad to hear you were not turned into a psychotic mass murderer by your exposure to violent video games. I grew up on a farm/ranch and from about age 5 to the present day I have spent a lot of time hunting and shooting. So far at age 66 I have never murdered anyone. It looks like we are both exceptions to perceived notions.

Gun Nut

Steve said...

I'd be surprised if there wasn't some correlation between violent video games and real-life violence. That being said, I think there have to be other factors involved that probably contribute much more to the instances of someone becoming a murderer.

If parents want to let their kids play these games, fine; but, make sure they are old enough to understand that in real life, there are no do-overs. You don't get to start over if you're killed. There is no reset button.

A good hunting outing will teach that very quickly.