The second leading cause of death in the 5 to 18 year old age group in the US is homicide. These are school aged children and the first thing that comes to mind are the big names like Columbine and Virginia Tech. But we know there are other school-related homicides that kill only one or two. Moreover there seem to be more of them than we remember from years past. But are there?
CDC, in conjunction with the US Department of Education and the US Department of Justice undertook to find out for the period July 1999 to June 2006. It turns out not to be an easy task since there is no central reporting system for this. What they wound up doing was to search two large newspaper and broadcast media databases (Lexis-Nexis and Dialog) for deaths of at least one student (which might also include nonstudents such as faculty, staff, family or community residents). They confirmed each report using an interview with a police officer or school official with knowledge of the event. Not perfect, to be sure, as there is no guarantee the databases got all reports or that all events were reported in media captured by the databases. But it is probably a pretty good guide to trends and orders of magnitude.
Here is the case definition:
The cases of school-associated homicide described in this report involved the homicide of a student in which the fatal injury occurred 1) on the campus of a functioning public or private elementary or secondary school in the United States, 2) while the victim was on the way to or from regular sessions at such a school, or 3) while the victim was attending or traveling to or from an official school-sponsored event. (CDC, Mortality and Morbidity Weekly Report [MMWR])
School-associated homicides turn out to be a tiny fraction of homicides in this age group, less than 1%. The rate had decreased in the 1990s but flattened out and was stable during the period of this study: 116 students were killed in 109 episodes (estimated rate of .03 per 100,000 students). At first this seems wrong, since 15 students were killed at Columbine and 33 at Virginia Tech. The explanation seems to be that Columbine occurred in April 1999, a few months before the start of data collection for this study, while Virginia Tech occurred in 2007, after data collection stopped. The usual victim was male (median age 15, range 6 – 18) and public highschools in central cities the most common setting. The unusual “school massacre” aside, most homicides involved a single victim and a single killer. Two thirds were from firearms; a quarter from knives or cutting; and one of eight by beating.
Most violence that kills children occurs outside the school setting. There are a lot of research and intervention efforts going on but no one seems to have found the key. Homicide rates were down for a while but have recently increased again. Exactly what causes these fluctuations is a matter of debate, but one clear reason is the across the board cuts in community programs, including those for community policing and violence prevention. Presidential candidate Mike Huckabee’s insane idea that arming every citizen would solve problems like Virginia Tech and Columbine is not only idiotic but flies in the face of the facts here: 99% of the killings are outside of schools. For the ones that are (or the mall killings), isn’t the problem that students or others have guns, not that everyone doesn’t?
Don’t mind me. I’m just trying to boost my traffic by saying this. Nothing brings out the crazies like alleging that maybe — just maybe — the problem isn’t too few guns but too fucking many guns.