DANIEL VAUGHAN: CNN is lying about school shootings

May 21, 2018

The horrific mass shooting in Santa Fe, Texas brought with it another national debate on social media and national media on the need to restrict or ban guns in the United States. Hashtag activism took over with people tweeting #NeverAgain, trying to claim some solidarity with victims in such situations. It’s become a predictable pattern with a familiar rhythm after any mass shooting story.

Predictable patterns, narratives, and rhythms purposely obscure the truth. CNN and anti-gun group Everytown falsely claim there have been between 22 – 40 school shootings this year. They run these stats and stories to induce panic and make everyone believe the same thing: America faces an epidemic of school shootings, and your children are in grave danger.

Here’s the truth, there is no epidemic of school shootings, children are safer in schools now than they were in the 1990’s, and the overall murder rates in schools and society at large have collapsed over the last 25 years.

Let’s start out at the top and work our way down. Between the 1970’s and 1990’s, America suffered from high murder rates well outside the historical norm. At the peak of the crime boom in the 70’s, 80’s, and 90’s, the overall homicide rate was 10 per every 100,000 people. But from 1991 to 2014 that rate was slashed in half to a low of 4.4 per 100,000 people.

Since 2014, we’ve seen that rate edge back up to around five murders per 100,000, but we’re still well below the crime boom of past decades and around historical norms before those years. In short, you’re safer now than ever before.

School shootings happened in those eras too, and we can compare those statistics to current conditions. Researchers at Northwestern University did this comparison using a wide array of data. Not counting the most recent mass shooting at Santa Fe, since 1996, we’ve only experienced eight mass shootings in schools, where four or more victims died.

Eight total mass shootings.

Nine if you count Santa Fe.

Alan Fox, one of the researchers at Northwestern, went on to describe schools as safer than ever:

Four times the number of children were killed in schools in the early 1990s than today, Fox said. “There is not an epidemic of school shootings,” he said, adding that more kids are killed each year from pool drownings or bicycle accidents. There are around 55 million school children in the United States, and on average over the past 25 years, about 10 students per year were killed by gunfire at school, according to Fox and Fridel’s research.

He’s not alone in his assessment. Eric Levitz at New York Magazine, no bastion of conservative thought, concurred with the research at Northwestern University:

American children do not “risk their lives” when they show up to school each morning — or at least, not nearly as much as they do whenever they ride in a car, swim in a pool, or put food in their mouths (an American’s lifetime odds of dying in a mass shooting committed in any location is 1 in 11,125; of dying in a car accident is 1 and 491; of drowning is 1 in 1,133; and of choking on food is 1 in 3,461). Criminal victimization in American schools has collapsed in tandem with the overall crime rate, leaving U.S. classrooms safer today than at any time in recent memory.

If schools are safer than they’ve been in decades, why does it feel like the exact opposite when you turn on the news?

Because they’re more interested in pushing a narrative and creating a moral panic than reporting the news. Because what you’re witnessing is the definition of a moral panic, similar to scares over rock music or poisoned Halloween candy, that push people to change laws and society with false narratives.

And while the homicide rates are lower in schools and society in general, we’ve seen an uptick in the number of mass shootings in schools. When you dig into the real reason why this is happening, it turns out the media is part of the problem:

Experts told BuzzFeed News the recent uptick is likely due to the amount of attention the attacks get and the fixation on the people behind them, spurring copycats while at the same time desensitizing the public.

And that brings me back to one of the more familiar elements of the new pattern to post-mass shooting news coverage: it’s acceptable and expected to attack and shame anyone offering thoughts and prayers to the victims. People who trumpet #NeverAgain, call for gun control and focus on the shooter encourage copycats.

People who focus on praying and thinking refocus the story on the victims and helping a community heal. That focus steals the attention from shooters and denies them the glory they seek. The media that forces a moral panic helps create the very monsters they claim gun control will prevent.

We need fewer useless organizations like Everytown and CNN pushing fake stats and moral panics, and more people like JJ Watt selflessly offering to help their neighbors and community. The gun control debate obscures this reality on purpose, even though the truth is evident.

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Daniel Vaughan

Daniel Vaughan is a columnist for the Conservative Institute and lawyer in Nashville, Tennessee. He has degrees from Middle Tennessee State University and Regent University School of Law. His work can be found on the Conservative Institute's website, or you can receive his columns and free weekly newsletter at The Beltway Outsiders. Connect with him on Twitter at @dvaughanCI.