Magazine article Information Today

School Shootings Databases

Magazine article Information Today

School Shootings Databases

Article excerpt


Five databases covering U.S. school shootings differ greatly on the definition of a school shooting, with widely varying results.


Database of School Shootings; Gunfire on School Grounds in the United States; List of School Shootings in the United States; School Shootings, K-12; and America's Epidemic of Shootings at U.S. Schools

School shootings in the U.S. are, sadly, an ongoing phenomenon. They've become so commonplace that only the large-scale events--most recently, the Parkland, Fla., incident--receive widespread national news attention; other, smaller incidents may be covered only by local or regional media.

So, how many school shootings are there in the U.S. annually? Several school shootings databases keep track, but there's no single, commonly agreed upon number for shootings at K-12 schools. For example, for 2017, the last full calendar year, The Washington Post says 14, Everytown says 39, and Wikipedia says nine. How can these numbers vary so widely? The principal reason is the differing definitions of a school shooting. Is it during school hours or anytime? Is it in the building or anywhere on the campus? For example, if a shooting occurs on a weekend night at a school athletic field when no students are present, is it a school shooting or just a plain old shooting?

School shootings databases have other differences. Record content and details vary considerably. Time spans range from recent years to the 19th century. Some include shootings that occur in higher education institutions. Local media reports are the main source, but other sources include proprietary databases, police reports, school information, and contacts with schools and police.

The Washington Post's Database of School Shootings

The Washington Post began compiling its database of school shootings ( graphics/2018/local/school-shootings-database) in 2017. Its coverage starts with the Columbine, Colo., incident on April 20, 1999, which marked the beginning of the "modern era" of school shootings. The database's school shooting definition is on the narrow side: "every act of gunfire at a primary or secondary school during school hours ... on campuses immediately before, during or just after classes," for a total of 14 in 2017.

Records for each incident are displayed in a scrolling list with summary data. Date, school, location, numbers of dead and wounded, number of students present in the school, description, and source link are all listed. This database is searchable by school name, date, and state. A downloadable spreadsheet has additional information, including time, shooting type, and school composition.

The database draws attention to an aspect of a school shooting that the other databases don't cover: the notion that all students in a school may be affected by a shooting event, regardless of its specific nature. It defines this as "exposed to gunfire," which is represented, roughly, by the school's student population. According to The Washington Post's count, 215,000 students have been affected since the Columbine shooting. This metric does a great service in pointing out that the harm from a shooting extends far beyond those who are killed or wounded. It simplifies the matter by recording just the school population, without attempting to assess the extent or nature of the harm inflicted, but that's a study for another day.

Everytown's Gunfire on School Grounds in the United States

School shootings are but one part of Everytown's research and activism program for gun safety. Formally titled Everytown for Gun Safety Action Fund, this 501(c)(3) nonprofit is involved in many gun violence spheres, including domestic violence, gun trafficking and sales, suicide, and lobbying. In each area, Everytown conducts research and produces reports, fact sheets, and infographies. It is also active in gun safety litigation, with related documents and reports on its website. …

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