Shootings at school follow trends in the unemployment rate

[Note: This item comes from friend David Rosenthal. DLH]

Shootings at school follow trends in the unemployment rate
A comprehensive database of events lets researchers explore potential causes.
Feb 5 2017

Part of why we struggle to understand school shootings is because there isn’t enough data available about these extremely rare events. A recent study published in Nature Human Behavior describes a carefully curated dataset for US school shootings between 1990-2013, created from existing data and original data sources.

In their analysis, the authors of this paper found that the rate of school shootings increased from 2007-2013. They also found data that suggested increased shooting rates were correlated with increases in unemployment rates. This finding indicates that high levels of economic distress may lead to increases in school-related gun violence.

Previous research on school shootings has resulted in contradictory claims because there hasn’t been a single, coherent dataset. Instead, multiple datasets with different inclusion criteria have made the resulting findings difficult or impossible to compare since they analyze fundamentally different information. To solve this problem, the authors made a new collection of school shooting data, which resulted in the inclusion of almost 400 events. Their criteria for inclusion in this dataset are:

• The shooting event involved a firearm being discharged, even if by accident
• The shooting event occurred on a school campus
• The shooting event involved students or school employees, either as bystanders or victims

This last criterion is in place to exclude related gun violence that just happens to occur on school campuses, such as gang violence on playgrounds during non-school hours. The inclusion criteria do not limit shooting events to mass shootings or to those in which people were hurt or killed; the presence of incidences of attempted violence is another characteristic that makes this dataset unique.

In the first portion of their data analysis, the authors looked just at the rate of shooting events. The data showed distinct periods of time with different rates of shooting events, which suggested that some external factor might be associated with periods of increased shootings.

The authors decided to compare these periods of increased shootings with the unemployment rate because unemployment is an aggregate statistic that summarizes many economic hardships. Unemployment may summarize the hardships faced by students’ families, as well problems that older students face as they make the school-to-work transition. Strong evidence in the literature also suggests that children feel the impact of their parent’s employment status.

The authors suspected that gun violence in schools may be linked to students’ disappointment in previously held beliefs that education can improve economic opportunities. If students begin to feel that education won’t help them find economic security, perhaps this makes them more likely to lash out within the educational institution that is failing them.



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