The school gun violence we don’t talk about

In over half of the shootings that happened on elementary, middle school, and high school grounds, a student brought a gun from their home.

SOURCEThink Progress

There have been 201 incidents of firearms being discharged on school grounds since January of 2013, according to new findings from Everytown for Gun Safety and Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense.

The findings also highlighted an issue that is often overlooked in the national conversation about school shootings: 39 percent of non-shooter victims of gun violence on school campuses are black, even though African Americans only make up 13 percent of the population. Meanwhile, 45 percent of non-shooter victims were white and 10 percent were non-white Latino victims.

To collect the data for this school shootings index, the two organizations tracked gun homicides, assaultive injuries, unintentional injuries, and suicides and attempted suicides. Almost half of these incidents happened on a university or college campus, while 31 percent took place on a high school campus and 13 percent happened on an elementary school campus.

Of the black victims of shootings on school campuses, 36 percent were homicides, 51 percent were injured, and 6 percent were unintentionally shot and injured in the line of fire. The majority of the 12 Latino victims were homicides. When looking at suicides, three black students and two Latino students shot and killed themselves and one Latino student killed himself after killing one person and injuring another with a firearm.

Looking at gun violence regardless of location, the data looks even worse. In 2010, 45 percent of child gun deaths and 46 percent of gun injuries involved black children and teenagers, according to the Children’s Defense Fund. Black teenagers were far more likely to be killed by guns than younger children and black male teenagers were much more likely to be killed.

The 2011 homicide rate for black female teens was much lower than that for black male teens (46 per 100,000 children and teens) but the homicide rate for black female teens was 6.4 compared to 1.4 for white female teens, according to the National Center for Health Statistics.

In the past, outlets like the Washington Post have criticized Everytown for Gun Safety for using an expansive definition of a “school shooting” that includes incidents like suicides and disputes that end in someone shooting a gun — arguing that only events like the one in Newtown, Connecticut, in which a young man shot 20 children and six adults in an elementary school, should be counted as a school shooting.

But Valerie Jean-Charles, a spokesperson for Everytown for Gun Safety, was adamant that the organization’s definition should include all incidents were a gun is discharged in school grounds.

“How do you tell a mother that the death of her son is not a school shooting and should not receive the same outcry and attention that something like Newtown would?” Jean-Charles said.

Everytown’s press release for the new report also included statements from Pamela Wright, whose son Tyrone who was shot and killed on his school campus in Chicago, objecting to using a narrower definition of a school shooting.

“There are media outlets that refuse to count what happened to Tyrone as a school shooting. They narrowly remove anything that resembles so-called ‘gang violence,’ as well as unintentional shootings and suicides,” Wright said.

The decision of many media outlets to focus on incidents where a lone shooter went into a mostly white school or college campus and shot multiple victims with the intent to kill may be a reflection of how society as a whole prioritizes the deaths of white people over the deaths of people of color.

White deaths are seen as evidence of the unraveling of the fabric of society, while the deaths of black and Latino people are treated as inevitable, according to a 2015 Bridgewater University sociology thesis that examined media coverage of school shootings for race and class biases. The paper looked at 231 online articles and 366 minutes of TV news clips, which covered 42 school shootings. Looking at coverage from 1995 to 2014, urban areas accounted for 13 of 24 incidents that were not covered in national news, in addition to eight suburban towns and three rural areas.

Twenty-two out of 24 instances that didn’t receive national coverage involved black or Latino youth or took place in a school with predominantly black and Latino demographics, and the school shootings in low-income and predominantly black and Hispanic neighborhoods that were in the national news received less coverage and for a short time period compared to incidents in white and upper class neighborhoods where news coverage went on for weeks or months. There was also less of an effort to understand the motivations of a shooter in a low-income, predominantly black and Latino neighborhood, or to mention mental illness as a factor. The reports on shootings in these neighborhoods were brief.

Looking at mass shootings in 2012, 90 people were killed. Nearly 6,000 black men were also killed by guns in 2012, ProPublica reported in a long-form piece on the ignored gun deaths of black men in the gun control debate.

Only 1.49 percent of gun deaths in total come from mass shootings, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

An approach called Operation Ceasefire, first developed in Boston in the 1990s, involves police connecting with community leaders to identify men most likely of being shot and men most likely to shoot, as well as informing them of the dangers of gun violence and offering assistance to people who wanted to stop being part of the cycle of gun violence. But it also promised a swift crackdown on those who continued to be involved in shootings. Although the Obama administration requested $74 million for grants for Ceasefire and similar initiatives in 2012, it received only $30 million.

As Everytown’s Jean-Charles noted, gun deaths by suicide are also neglected in conversations about victims of firearms at K-12 schools and institutions of higher education, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t worth covering.

This lack of concern over suicides is apparent in the coverage of the University of California in Los Angeles murder-suicide in June, Vox explained at the time. It quickly fell from the news and from social media after news broke that it was not a mass shooting situation.

The majority of gun deaths are from suicide, comprising 21,175 of 33,636 gun deaths in 2013, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In schools, there have been 31 suicides and three attempted suicides since January 2013, according to the Everytown report.

In over half of the shootings that happened on elementary, middle school, and high school grounds, a student brought a gun from their home. Nonetheless, state legislators are making it easier to bring a gun to school grounds. Lawmakers are introducing bills to allow guns on college campuses as well as on K-12 school grounds. As many as 15 states have introduced bills to allow firearms in K-12 schools.

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Casey Quinlan is an education reporter for ThinkProgress. Previously, she was an editor for U.S. News and World Report. She has covered investing, education crime, LGBT issues, and politics for publications such as the NY Daily News, The Crime Report, The Legislative Gazette, Autostraddle, City Limits, The Atlantic and The Toast.