School shooting trend hits Indiana

It was Indiana’s turn. An incident last week at Noblesville West Middle School brought the plague of school shootings close to home. We’ve had school shootings here before, of course; but following closely on deadly incidents in Florida and Texas, the Noblesville shooting grabbed national attention.

Here are a few things to keep in mind:

The odds of a shooting in your child’s school are extremely low. School shootings are so horrifying and get so much media coverage that it seems they’re happening everywhere, all the time. But there are 50 million students attending over 100,000 schools in the United States. Very few of them will experience a shooting at their school.

As Harvard professor David Ropeik writes in the Washington Post, the odds of a child being shot to death at school on a given day are roughly 1 in 614 million, considerably less than the odds of dying from a serious disease or being killed on the way to or from school or from a sports injury.

I’m hearing stories of parents who are thinking about homeschooling their children rather than risk sending them to school. Of course, parents have every right to worry and make decisions about their children’s safety. But for most children, schools are among the safest places they can be.

It’s the guns. The United States has more mass shootings, including school shootings, than other countries for one reason: We have a lot more guns and put few restrictions on them. As Max Fisher and Josh Keller report in the New York Times, Americans are 4.4 percent of the world’s population but own 42 percent of the guns. Nearly one-third of gunmen in mass shootings are Americans.

Americans are no more prone to crime and violence or mental health problems than people in many other countries, Fisher and Keller write. We just have a lot more guns floating around.

If we want to reduce the number and deadliness of school shootings, we need to reduce access to guns, especially highly lethal weapons that can kill lots of people very quickly. In particular, we should make it harder for children to get their hands on guns. That won’t prevent school shootings, but it can help. The activism launched by Florida high-school students is a good start; we need to keep it going.

Some steps can be counterproductive. As Ropeik points out, there’s a risk that fear will lead us to take actions that cause harm in the long run. An obvious example is the push by some politicians to arm teachers. More guns in schools will mean more shootings in schools, intentional or not.

Employing armed school resource officers may seem like a good idea, but having armed officers didn’t prevent the killing of 17 people at Florida’s Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in February and 10 at Texas’ Santa Fe High School this month. There’s some evidence that having police in schools is associated with more suspensions, expulsions and arrests, especially for students of color.

Locked doors and tightened security may reassure parents but send a message that schools are not welcoming places. They may signal to students that they should be fearful.

In Noblesville, we can be thankful that no one was killed, although a 13-year-old girl was seriously wounded. And it’s refreshing that news coverage this time has focused on Jason Seaman, the science teacher who tackled the shooter and prevented further carnage. Seaman told reporters Monday that his actions “were the only acceptable actions I could have done given the circumstances.” He added, “I deeply care for my students and their well-being.”

Maybe that’s the school-shooting narrative we’ve been waiting for – one that says we can keep our children safe with love, not with fear and weapons.

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