July 29, 1998

Study: No major upswing in school shooting deaths

WASHINGTON (AP) -- The number of school shooting deaths across the country was lower during the past school year than five years ago, but the horrific nature of several of this term's shootings and heavy media coverage left the opposite impression, a private study revealed Wednesday.

The study, "School House Hype," says that perception could lead to "counterproductive" new laws and an excessive focus on dangers at school when everyday gun violence outside school is a bigger threat to children.

"There is a big problem of kids being killed in America, " said Vincent Schiraldi, director of the Justice Policy Institute, a criminal justice research group that conducted the study. "If politicians spend all of the next year trying to come up with solutions for the 'school killing' problem, they could miss the real problem."

The study, paid for by the Annie E. Casey Foundation that supports many juvenile justice efforts, collected data on fatal school shootings from several federal agencies and the National School Safety Center at Pepperdine University.

It found there were 55 school shooting deaths in 1992-93, 51 in 1993-94, 20 in 1994-95, 35 in 1995-96, 25 in 1996-97 and 40 in 1997-98.

Several of the shootings in the past year were at rural schools where such violence is rare.

"That made it more of a man-bites-dog type news hook, the occurrence of the shootings of kids in rural communities, as opposed to urban kids, kids of color," Schiraldi said.

He criticized responses like the possible curtailing of nighttime school athletic events, one of several measures being considered by a Virginia governor's commission to reduce school violence. Lila Young, a spokeswoman for Virginia Gov. James Gilmore, said it was premature to comment.

Schiraldi's group has long argued against the trend to criminalize youthful offenders, saying that is more likely to create habitual offenders.

Among other recent developments, he cited:

Any changes in Arkansas law would not affect two boys, ages 12 and 13, accused of the shooting March 24 that left four students and a teacher dead and 10 others wounded at a Jonesboro middle school. The boys face a juvenile court hearing in August.

Schiraldi said intense media coverage of the August hearing will unnecessarily increase fears of school just as students head back to class.