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  • Joanne Jacobs

'Are my kids going to be scared to come to school?'

Two teen-age boys were killed yesterday, and a boy and girl were wounded as they left their Chicago high school at the end of the day, reports the Chicago Sun-Times. The shooter fled. The motive is unknown.


“Are my kids going to be scared to come to school?," asked Guillermo Niño, who has two daughters at Benito Juarez High School in the mostly Hispanic Pilsen neighborhood. "This is supposed to be a safe haven."


Niño, an anti-violence worker with the group Enlace, "has been showing up at scenes of gun violence for 15 years to provide resources for victims," reports the Sun-Times. Now it's his own children running from the sound of gunshots.

School shootings are very rare, but also at an "all-time high," writes psychologist Stuart Ritchie, who teaches at King's College London. Predicting who will become violent is nearly impossible, he writes.


In 2000–01, there were 30 incidents in which someone brandished or fired a gun on a school campus, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. "In the most recently documented year, 2020–21, there were 145," writes Ritchie, and other sources indicate the trend has continued since then.


However, compared to the more than 130,000 schools and many millions of students in the United States, even 145 incidents of bringing a gun to school remains a very rare event, he writes. "As explained by Vox.com, if a 99-percent accurate test is run on a group of 100,000 people, including one genuine future shooter, it will mistakenly collar 1,000 students who have no intention of committing gun violence."


Many assume the typical school shooter is a suicidal white male teenager, Ritchie writes. That profile isn't accurate.

. . . a 2021 study by Sarah Gammell and colleagues looked at all incidents in which a gun was fired on school property, during or around the school day, between 1970 and 2020 — of which there were 785 — and found that many school shootings are not at all like the most sensational, highly publicized incidents. Thirty-seven percent of shooters were adults; just 14 percent turned the gun on themselves. Across the subset of 276 cases in which the race of at least one of the shooters was reported, a minority of shooters (44 percent) were white. Moreover, and despite the intense media focus on these weapons, only 8 percent of the shootings involved a rifle; more than 75 percent involved a handgun. Finally, just over half, 52 percent, occurred outside the school building—though incidents that occurred inside tended to be deadlier.

There's little evidence that "target hardening," such as adding metal detectors, locking doors and hiring guards, protects students from gun violence, writes Ritchie, and it may increase "student fear, anxiety, and alienation from the school."


Zero tolerance for misbehavior may "keep general school-violence rates low," but "fail to prevent the rarer, more-extreme bursts of violence that characterize school shootings."


Threat assessment -- waiting for a student to threaten violence and responding immediately to analyze whether the threat is credible -- is the best option, Ritchie concludes. "There are studies showing students in schools that use threat assessment are more likely to seek help; more likely to feel fairly treated; and have lower levels of suspensions." However, because school shootings are so rare, it's impossible to say whether threat assessment prevents violence.


New statistical techniques may improve our ability to predict violence, Ritchie writes. But we're not there yet.

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