by Todd Jackson
It will offer little solace to the parents and families of those who lost their children at Sandy Hook on the morning of Friday 12/14, but it is not the case American children are at greater danger today than ever. This according to a Justice Department report study released to little notice this past February.
The study included a span running from the 1992-1993 school year and the 2008-2009 school year. The number of murders of children dropped 42% between those years, and the frequency of those murders occurring at school dropped even more precipitously. While the murder of 20 children, along with seven adults, by Adam Lanza in Newtown CT may likely lead to 2012 ranking as a particularly terrible year, it would appear destined to be a tragic outlier. Aside from the present year, it appears our children are safer than they were just a generation ago.
And so are we. The number of murders generally has declined since 1991. In this particular instance, one might see a mitigating factor in 1991’s representing the peak of the “crack wars” that plagued the American cities from the mid-1980s to the early 1990s. In any event, as the nation searches its soul, and many aspects of its lifestyle in the aftermath of what has seemed to so many – the President included – to be simply one gun horror too many, and in atmosphere in which core rights are being negotiated, it is all the more important to measure public response against objective fact.
Still, there is a warning to be found in the statistics. While the number of murders of children, the number of children murdered at school, and the numbers of murders generally have all declined, the number of mass murders has remained roughly constant.
This suggests a series of distinctions between mass killers and murderers generally. Mass murderers are more likely to be white males; they are more likely to use firearms; they are more likely to kill family members.
The statistics on mass killers also suggests that as they present an apparently constant public menace, unrelated in particular to the threat to children, much of the current discussion about assigning police or armed guards at schools, or even arming teachers, might profitably be discussed in terms of armed guards in public places generally, not schools. Prior to Sandy Hook, after all, the year’s most notorious mass murder took place at an Aurora, CO movie theater on July 20, when James Holmes killed 12 and wounded 58 at the opening of The Dark Knight Rises. Probably the most notorious mass murder immediately prior to that took place at a political rally in Tucson, AZ, when in January 2011 Jared Lee Loughner killed 6 people and wounded several others, included Rep. Gabrielle Giffords.
Few public events are likelier to bring about as visceral response as the deaths of so many children, particularly when the children are as young as the children of Sandy Hook. President Obama, clearly aggrieved at the tragedy, has stated his Administration’s willingness to begin discussing banning “assault rifles.” But the previous assault rifle ban, sponsored by Sen Dianne Feinstein, D-CA, which expired in 2004, was proven to have no significant impact upon gun crime.
The argument that banning guns from public places, meanwhile, may have strong sentimental appeal, but fails several empirical tests.