EDIT: Thanks all for dropping in your questions. That's all the time we have for today's AMA, but we will be on the lookout for any big, lingering questions. Please continue to follow our coverage and support our journalism. We couldn't do this work without your support.

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In the aftermath of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High massacre in 2018, we reported for the first time how many children had endured a shooting at a K-12 school since 1999, and the final tally was far higher than what we had expected: more than 187,000.

Now, just five years later, and despite a pandemic that closed many campuses for nearly a year, the number has exploded, climbing past 331,000.

We know that because we’ve continued to maintain a unique database that tracks the total number of children exposed to gun violence at school, as well as other vital details, including the number of people killed and injured, the age, sex, race and gender of the shooters, the types and sources of their weapons, the demographic makeup of the schools, the presence of armed security guards, the random, targeted or accidental nature of the shootings.

Steven is the database editor for the investigations unit at The Washington Post. John Woodrow Cox is an enterprise reporter and the author of Children Under Fire: An American Crisis.

View the Post's database on children and gun violence here: https://www.washingtonpost.com/graphics/2018/local/school-shootings-database/?itid=hp-banner-main

Read their full story on what they've learned from this coverage here: https://www.washingtonpost.com/dc-md-va/2023/02/14/school-shootings-parkland-5th-anniversary/?utm_campaign=wp_main&utm_medium=social&utm_source=reddit.com

Comments: 628 • Responses: 18  • Date: 

gearhedd436 karma

I've heard hypotheses that media coverage may inspire copycat violence and motivate unstable people seeking notoriety. Have you encountered this in your research? Could media regulations like not publicizing the names and faces of the perpetrators help reduce the motivation for others?

washingtonpost383 karma

From John Woodrow Cox:

We do know that shooters sometimes study previous shooters and aspire to be as famous – or, in some cases, kill more people. Journalists have come a long way on this issue since Columbine, when many media outlets glamourized the shooters in an irresponsible way. We still feel an obligation to tell people who the shooters are and what motivated the violence. That’s fundamental to the job. But we’re also very careful not to repeat the shooters’ names or publicize their images unnecessarily. And I think it’s made a real difference. Whereas most people could name the Columbine shooters, I doubt many could name the Uvalde or Oxford of Michigan State shooters. That’s the product of media outlets taking a more thoughtful approach to the coverage.

GDJT95 karma

Have you considered switching to a less soul destroying topic?

washingtonpost163 karma

From Steven Rich:

In the time we've been doing this reporting I have also reported on police shootings, fentanyl and prescription opioids and the inability of police to solve murders in some neighborhoods.

washingtonpost50 karma

From John Woodrow Cox:

This work is hard and, often, exhausting, but it’s also a privilege. People trust us to share their life’s worst moments with the world, and we’re grateful for that. Though it doesn’t always happen, it’s especially gratifying when we see our work improve people’s lives in a tangible way.

rbrijs86 karma

What do you think about the fact that mass shootings and gun violence in schools makes up a small fraction of gun violence in the US, and in turn, their focus in the media shifts the conversation to assault rifles and away from restrictions to handguns that would be necessary to curb gun violence more broadly?

washingtonpost38 karma

From Steven Rich:

I'm not a media critic, but I will say I often think about the kind of "routine" gun violence that doesn't make headlines a lot and that includes suicides by gun. It's not feasible to write about them all individually, but I think the public would benefit from more reporting on the topic at a higher level. There are folks out there doing a great job of that but we could always use more.

Grzzld68 karma

My school district just announced they are going to have armed guards in the near future. What does the data say about how effective this is at preventing a school shooting?

washingtonpost107 karma

From John Woodrow Cox:

It’s impossible to know how many shootings didn’t happen because a potential gunman knew an armed guard was present, but we do know that they’ve been unable to prevent dozens of school shootings. Across 366 shootings, we have identified just two instances in which a resource officer gunned down an active shooter. To put that in perspective, at least nine shootings have been halted by malfunctioning weapons or by the attacker’s inability to handle them.

FindTheRemnant39 karma

How many school shootings have occurred at schools where the teachers are allowed to be armed?

washingtonpost44 karma

From Steven Rich and John Woodrow Cox:

We don't know because most schools do not allow teachers to be armed. But we do know that many of the schools with shootings had school resource officers or police there at the time of the shooting. Across 366 shootings, we have identified just two instances in which a resource officer gunned down an active shooter. To put that in perspective, at least nine shootings have been halted by malfunctioning weapons or by the attacker’s inability to handle them.

We also know that, in several cases, resource officers have unintentionally fired their own weapons inside schools and classrooms.

clambo14-35 karma

My daughter, a school employee, had a young man pull and point a loaded pistol at her on campus in DC a few years ago. He was there to settle a score. Commentary about teachers carrying is beyond stupid.

washingtonpost12 karma

From John Woodrow Cox and Steven Rich:

We’re so sorry she went through that. Teachers do incredibly difficult jobs, even without the threat of violence.

BrazenRaizen32 karma

Is it true that 49.7M children are enrolled in public schools each year in the US? Is it true that 331,000 / 49,700,000 = .00666 or 0.66%?

washingtonpost34 karma

From John Woodrow Cox and Steven Rich:

That's probably not far off from the real number and as we have noted in our reporting, school shootings are rare. That is, statistically, true, in the sense that a child is highly unlikely to experience one. But it’s also an assertion that infuriates many people, and for good reason. Are school shootings in the United States “rare” compared with the number in, say, Canada or England or Germany or any other developed nation? No, they are not.

Our database also excludes hundreds of incidents every year that don’t technically qualify but that still terrify and traumatize tens of thousands of children: shootings at after-school sporting events, for example, or gunshots fired just off campus.

And then there’s the consequence of school shootings that could never be described as rare: actual lockdowns.

In the 2017-2018 school year, we found that more than 4.1 million children suffered through at least one of them — and nearly 60 percent were caused by gun violence or the threat of it.

The sudden order to hide in silence from a potential intruder can panic students, who have wept and soiled themselves, written farewell messages to family members and pleaded with parents to save them before they were killed.

KrakoaForever25 karma

Have you noticed a change in statistics in areas where teachers or staff have access to firearms themselves? What about school resource officers? From local PD?

washingtonpost33 karma

From Steven Rich:

We know 6 of 8 shootings where more than a dozen people were shot had resource officers present at the school at the time of the shooting. So adults with guns have not been a deterrent for school shooters.

quickhand20 karma

Is data/database journalism particularly suited to accountability journalism, compared to other forms of journalism? If so, why? Do you see data/database journalism as being a useful tool for marginalized communities--and those without social status--to employ? Why or why not?

washingtonpost28 karma

From Steven Rich:

I've been doing it for ten years here and the answer is yes. It helps our investigations show scope and provide context. Anecdotes really drive the reporting, but it's important to show how often those anecdotes happen. I think it's incredibly useful for marginalized communities because it helps validate whether their issues are persistent or one-offs. Showing systematic issues is easier with data and can help prove that a widespread problem exists where anecdotes often get written off.

quickhand6 karma

How do you grapple in your work with survivorship bias in available data, where data that proves inconvenient things about the powerful (or to the benefit of the marginalized) was, historically, deliberately not collected or destroyed?

washingtonpost56 karma

From Steven Rich:

I have made a living collecting data that the federal government and other local governments do not. Last year, I collected data on settlements by police departments across the country and went through nearly 23,000 court cases by hand to get info that cities did not have. The answer is that I am undeterred. If I want the data, I'll get it one way or the other.

guanliaozhuyi9 karma

I know one of the main problems with this kind of work is that information is spread out and no one (except you all, thank you!) feel they're responsible to collect it.
So, how, if at all, do you think government agencies could improve access to this information?

washingtonpost32 karma

From Steven Rich:

By collecting it in the first place. The federal government collects a lot of data on public and private schools, including information on discipline of students, and they could ask schools to report violence on school grounds during the school day as well.

Objective_Ant9136 karma

Steven where would you recommend a journalist start with data visualization? I have big ideas and some beginner experience with a few web apps (datawrapper, tableau), but I feel like I don't know the basics.

washingtonpost12 karma

From Steven Rich:

My job entails more analysis than visualization so I'm not the best person to ask here. But we do use datawrapper for a lot, and it's quite good for most things.

[deleted]2 karma


washingtonpost23 karma

From John Woodrow Cox:

I can speak to school shootings specifically. You’re right: most mass school shooters are white. The 10 worst assaults account for 57 percent of the entire death toll since 1999, and all but two of them were committed by white attackers, a reality that has left much of the public with the false impression that school shootings almost exclusively affect white students.

Children of color, however, are far more likely to experience campus gun violence: more than twice as much for Hispanic students and over three times as much for Black students. Shootings at those schools are typically targeted – one student shooting one or two others. Fewer casualties almost always result in less media coverage.

Based on all my years reporting on this subject, I also believe that shootings in black and brown neighborhoods tend to get less coverage, in general. It shouldn't be that way, because we know that chronic gun violence is, in the long term, more harmful than the one-off shootings that garner so much attention in white communities.

soulbrotha12 karma

How do you guys keep your sanity?

washingtonpost34 karma

From Steven Rich:

I cannot speak for John but I never had any sanity to begin with. But to keep some ability to do this work day in and day out, I practice a lot of self care. I see a therapist. I take Lexapro. And I lean into hobbies that can take my mind off of things. I even opened my own woodshop building custom furniture a few years back in part because I find woodworking to be such a zen experience.

MinnieShoof-6 karma

Steven! Epic beard! How long've you been growing it?

Also, more on topic: Why do you feel that some of the information gets more traction then others? Some school shootings are national headlines and some are barely reported on. Have you found anything that skews the reporting habits?

washingtonpost9 karma

From Steven Rich:

I think what you see, unfortunately, is that the more people who are shot, the more coverage a shooting gets. Sometimes other news just buries stories by accident. This is just my perspective on this issue.

Also, I've been growing the beard since the start of the pandemic.

Unreasonable_Seagull-10 karma

In your opinion, why are guns more hazardous than other weapons?

washingtonpost9 karma

From John Woodrow Cox:

Not sure what you mean by “other weapons,” but guns are designed to kill, and they do so with remarkable efficiency. Take the Las Vegas shooting, for example. One man shot more than 400 people – killing 61 – from a hotel room nearly 500 yards away, all in 10 minutes.

PanickedPoodle-10 karma

I think what we all want to know is whether there is any hope of change.

No one in their right mind would choose this for our children, and yet the forces aligned to fuel gun violence are only getting worse. How do we break the cycle?

washingtonpost16 karma

From John Woodrow Cox:

We’re never going to go from 40,000-plus killed by gun violence each year to zero, but that also can’t be the goal. If we could reduce that number to 30,000 or 25,000 or 20,000, that would be worth it. The same is true of school shootings.

I could devote (and have) thousands of words to what we need to do, as a country, to curb this epidemic, but here’s an easy one: lock up your guns. If, after Columbine, people locked up their guns and stopped giving children access to them, more than half the school shootings since would never have happened. The same is true now. If we stopped giving children access to guns, we could reduce school shootings by more than half. Overnight.