This spring the U.S. Education Department released a report about the 2015-2016 school year, which claimed that “nearly 240 schools … reported at least 1 incident involving a school-related shooting.” When National Public Radio fact-checked the incidents, the results were astonishing: more than two-thirds of them never happened. They were able to confirm just 11 reports.
Meanwhile, Congress gave the National Institute for Justice $75 million in March to design pilot programs to cut down on school violence, which will be based around this data. At this point, it is unclear how much its inaccuracy will affect the development of the programs.
This isn’t the first time that NPR has successfully fact-checked claims about school shootings. In 2017, NPR produced a radio story / article titled, “Despite Heightened Fear Of School Shootings, It’s Not A Growing Epidemic“, which reads in part:
“There were more back in the ’90s than in recent years,” says Fox. “For example, in one school year — 1997-98 — there were four multiple-victim shootings in schools.”
Second, the overall number of gunshot victims at schools is also down. According to Fox’s numbers, back in the 1992-93 school year, about 0.55 students per million were shot and killed; in 2014-15, that rate was closer to 0.15 per million.
“The difference is the impression, the perception that people have,” Fox says — and he traces that to cable news and social media. “Today we have cell phone recordings of gunfire that play over and over and over again. So it’s that the impression is very different. That’s why people think things are a lot worse now, but the statistics say otherwise.”