The Problem With CNN's School Shooting Count

Nearly half of incidents identified this year are unlikely to be recognized by most as school shootings

Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School staff, teachers and students return to school greeted by police and well wishers / Getty
May 22, 2018

CNN has been promoting its latest count of school shootings in the aftermath of Friday's tragedy in Santa Fe, Texas. But most of the included incidents bear no resemblance to that attack. While the news organization has not released details behind the incidents included in its report that 288 school shootings have occurred in the United States since 2009, it has detailed its count of 22 for this year. Their standard includes any incident where anyone was injured in any way anywhere on school grounds for any school from kindergarten to college.

It is similar to the standard created by gun-control group Everytown for Gun Safety, which many media outlets have repeated. The main difference appears to be that CNN only counts incidents that result in some sort of injury to somebody other than the person who pulled the trigger.

It includes shootings where neither the shooter nor the victims were students or faculty at the school. It includes accidental shootings. It even includes an incident where one student was bruised after being shot with a BB gun.

If CNN's list of school shootings is limited to incidents where a student is either the victim or perpetrator of a shooting by an actual gun on school grounds, only 12* of the 22 incidents would qualify. Of those 12 incidents, 9 happened at K-12 schools and 3 happened at universities. Most of those 12 do not closely resemble the shootings in Santa Fe or Parkland. Most were targeted attacks on a single victim or did not result in serious injuries. Four of the 12 shootings resulted in fatalities, 3 resulted in multiple fatalities, and 2 (Santa Fe and Parkland) were mass shootings where more than 4 people were killed.

Researchers from Northeastern University revealed their finding in February that shootings at K-12 schools are not more common than they used to be and schools have become safer than they were in the 1990s.

"Since 1996, there have been 16 multiple victim shootings in schools, or incidents involving 4 or more victims and at least 2 deaths by firearms, excluding the assailant," the university said of the research. "Of these, 8 are mass shootings, or incidents involving 4 or more deaths, excluding the assailant."

The full Northeastern study will be published later this year but researchers have released their findings on the number of fatal school shootings and rate of students killed in those incidents.

They determined school shootings are rare events, especially when compared with other causes of death among school-aged children. "There is not an epidemic of school shootings," James Alan Fox, the Lipman Family Professor of Criminology, Law, and Public Policy at Northeastern, said of the findings.

Representing these disturbing events as more common than they actually are leads to people overestimating how likely they are to happen at their local school: A study published last year found a third of parents believe their school will have a firearm incident in the next three years, despite only 8.6 percent who had actually heard of a gun incident at their school in the last five years. A poll published in April found 57 percent of teens fear a shooting at their school.

*Here are the 12 incidents thus far in the 2018 calendar year where a student was intentionally shot by or intentionally shot somebody with a gun on school property:

May 18, 2018: Santa Fe, Texas

A 17-year-old student murdered 10 people and wounded 10 others in a shooting at Santa Fe High School.

May 11, 2018: Palmdale, California

A 14-year-old former student fired a rifle outside of Highland High hitting one student in the shoulder. The victim is expected to make a full recovery.

April 20, 2018: Ocala, Florida

A 17-year-old student at Forest High School was shot by a 19-year-old former student. The victim was hit in the ankle. His injury is considered non-life-threatening.

March 20, 2018: Lexington Park, Maryland

A student shot two other students at Great Mills High School, killing one, before being engaged by an armed school resource officer and dying.

March 7, 2018: Jackson, Mississippi

A student was shot in the leg in a Jackson State University dorm. Police are unsure if the student accidentally shot himself or was shot by somebody else. His wound was not life-threatening.

February 27, 2018: Norfolk, Virginia

A student at Norfolk State University realized he had been shot in the behind after hearing a loud bang coming from a neighboring dorm room. It's unclear if the shooting was accidental or intentional. The student was not seriously injured.

February 14, 2018: Parkland, Florida

A 19-year-old former student at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School murdered 17 people at the school in one of the worst school shootings in American history.

February 9, 2018: Nashville, Tennessee

A 14-year-old shot a 17-year-old student multiple times in the parking lot of Pearl-Cohn High School. The 14-year-old claimed he was acting in self-defense during a fight with the 17-year-old and others but he still faces charges. The 17-year-old survived the shooting.

February 5, 2018: Oxon Hill, Maryland

A 17-year-old student at Oxon Hill High School was shot in a car in the school's parking lot in what police believe was an attempted robbery. He was treated and released from the hospital the same day.

January 23, 2018: Benton, Kentucky

A 15-year-old student murdered two other students at Marshall County High School and shot 14 others.

January 22, 2018: Italy, Texas

A 16-year-old male student at Italy High School shot a 15-year-old female student whom he had dated at one point. The victim survived the attack.

January 20, 2018: Winston-Salem, North Carolina

A Winston-Salem State University football player was murdered in the midst of a fight that broke out at a party on the campus of Wake Forest University. Another Winston-Salem State student was arrested for his murder. A second man was arrested for his role in the murder.