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At 25th Anniversary, Quantifying Columbine's Effects

The April 20, 1999, Columbine school massacre was neither the first nor the deadliest school shooting in our nation's history. But by all measures it's the most significant in its impact on school policies, public attitudes and popular culture. In a USA Today commentary, Northeastern University criminologist James Alan Fox writes that his analysis of K-12 shooting data for the past three years shows how misplaced the reactions have been to the actual threats of more rampage attacks like Columbine, thanks in part to statistics that get interpreted to inflate the risk.

FBI records show that since Columbine, there have been 50 of that specific type of attack resulting in victim injuries or deaths, for an average of two a year, in a nation with nearly 130,000 schools. The Center for Homeland Defense and Security’s K-12 School Shooting Database suggests that the number of incidents has grown exponentially since 2021, with nearly 1,000 cases. But those data, relying on a very broad definition of shootings to include firing or brandishing guns on school property at any time with or without injury, show that nearly 90% of the shootings did not take place inside the school itself, but in parking lots, athletic fields or school buses, where lockdown drills and metal detectors are not relevant. "Although understandable, our response to school shootings − requiring students to participate in active shooter drills, arming teachers, installing security equipment − is out of proportion with the actual risk," Fox wrote. "I’m certainly not suggesting that we invite a tragedy to deflect attention from school shootings, only that we keep the risk in its proper perspective. Schools are indeed safe. Offered structure and supervision, children are safer in school than out."


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