As President Trump and lawmakers consider ways to make schools safer in the wake of the Florida high school massacre, an academic study is reporting that U.S. schools overall are safer today than they were in the early 1990s, and there is not an epidemic of such shootings.
Researchers at Northeastern University say mass school shootings are extremely rare, that shootings involving students have been declining since the 1990s, and four times as many children were killed in schools in the early 1990s than today.
“There is not an epidemic of school shootings,” said James Alan Fox, the Lipman Family Professor of Criminology, Law, and Public Policy at Northeastern. He said more children die each year from pool drownings or bicycle accidents.
There are around 55 million schoolchildren in the U.S., the study said, and over the past 25 years, about 10 students on average per year were killed by gunfire at school.
The researchers used data collected by USA Today, the FBI’s Supplementary Homicide Report, Congressional Research Service, Gun Violence Archive, Stanford Geospatial Center and Stanford Libraries, Mother Jones, Everytown for Gun Safety, and a New York City Police Department report on active shooters.
The Everytown group said this month that its own research shows there have been nearly 300 school shootings in America since 2013 — defining a shooting as anytime a firearm discharges a live round inside or into a school building or on a school campus.
Since the shooting on Feb. 14 in Parkland, Florida, that killed 17 people and wounded 15 others, policymakers including Mr. Trump have been exploring ways to prevent more school shootings, including proposals to arm more teachers and to raise the age limit for purchasing firearms.
Mr. Fox said some policy changes could lead to an overall decrease in gun violence, such as banning “bump stocks” and raising the age of purchase for assault rifles from 18 to 21. But he doesn’t believe such measures will prevent all school shootings.
“The thing to remember is that these are extremely rare events, and no matter what you can come up with to prevent it, the shooter will have a workaround,” Mr. Fox said in a report on the university’s website.
Co-researcher Emma Fridel said increasing mental health resources for students also could improve school safety. She said the U.S. has a shortage of guidance counselors, with a student-to-counselor ratio of 482-1 in the 2014-15 school year, about twice the recommended ratio.
“You might have students in a very large school who are troubled but who are basically flying under the radar because you have one guidance counselor for 400 students,” Ms. Fridel said.
The research, which will be released in full later this year, defines mass shootings as those involving four or more deaths, not including the gunman. Since 1996, there have been seven mass shootings in schools, and just seven more incidents with two or three non-gunman deaths.
“Mass school shootings are incredibly rare events,” the school’s report said. Mr. Fox and Ms. Fridel found that on average, “mass murders occur between 20 and 30 times per year, and about one of those incidents on average takes place at a school.”
Mr. Trump will hold a bipartisan meeting with lawmakers Wednesday as the White House and Congress debate a policy response to the Florida school shooting. White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said the president will recommend specific policies by the end of the week to make schools safer.
Among the proposals the president is expected to endorse is a bill sponsored by Sens. John Cornyn, Texas Republican, and Christopher Murphy, Connecticut Democrat, to expand the number of records available in the FBI’s National Instant Criminal Background Check System.
Mrs. Sanders said the president still supports raising the legal age for purchasing semi-automatic rifles from 18 to 21, although it’s not clear whether he will ask Congress to approve such a move. The powerful National Rifle Association opposes that idea.
Mr. Trump also has vowed to ban rapid-fire bump stock devices, with or without cooperation from Congress. The gunman in the Florida school shooting didn’t use a bump stock, though police said the shooter in the Las Vegas massacre last year did.
Mrs. Sanders said the president still supports arming more qualified adults in schools as a deterrent, although Mr. Trump has said he intends to leave such decisions up to states and localities.
Mr. Trump’s recommendations could go a long way to frame the debate on Capitol Hill, where there are plenty of ideas but little consensus on what to tackle.
Senate Republican leaders said they want to keep the focus narrow, looking chiefly at plans that have wide bipartisan support, such as the Cornyn-Murphy proposal.
“What I don’t want to do is leave here this week and go back home to Texas and say we failed to do anything,” Mr. Cornyn said. “Let’s do what we can, and let’s build from there.”
Democratic leaders like that bill but are eager to seize the moment in the wake of the Florida shooting.
Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer of New York said Democrats will insist on universal background checks, which would include all private transfers. Currently, only purchases from federally licensed firearms dealers are required to be checked under federal law.
He also said he won’t rule out pushing for broader gun controls, such as a ban on semi-automatic rifles like the AR-15-style weapon police say was used in Florida.
He is looking to peel Republicans away from their gun rights supporters, particularly those in the National Rifle Association.
“You can’t solve this problem and please the NRA. And our Republican colleagues have to learn that,” Mr. Schumer said.
The House has passed a bill similar to the Cornyn-Murphy legislation to add more records to the background check system. That legislation was coupled with a bill to expand concealed-carry rights.
House Speaker Paul D. Ryan, Wisconsin Republican, said Tuesday that he and his colleagues will wait to see what the Senate does.
But he said he is less interested in measures that would prevent law-abiding citizens from owning guns than he is in working to fix the “colossal breakdown” that he said led to the Florida shooting.
He noted that the FBI and local law enforcement missed warnings about the accused shooter and cited the sheriff’s deputy stationed at the school who did not enter the building to confront the shooter.
That deputy has drawn condemnation from politicians in Washington, including Mr. Trump, who said he would have rushed into the school. Rep. Steve Scalise, a Louisiana Republican who survived a shooting attack last year because U.S. Capitol Police were on hand, said he was struck by the deputy’s behavior.
“What angered me the most is when I see breakdowns with law enforcement,” Mr. Scalise said.
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