Study compares school shootings in the 21st century to the last: What's changed?

There have already been more gun deaths from mass school shootings this century than during the entirety of the last century.

As the reverberations of the Parkland school shooting continue, many are wondering if any advances in gun legislation will be made. As debates are waged over the significance of gun sales and mental illness, a new study, published in Journal of Child and Family Studies, examines the differences between school shootings in the previous century and the current one. 

Lead author Antonis Katsiyannis, a distinguished professor at Clemson University, believes that school violence is an epidemic that must be addressed. While some believe the Parkland incident, the deadliest school shooting in American history, is an isolated occurrence, Katsiyannis and team show otherwise.

On the anniversary of the Columbine shooting, thousands of New York teenagers walk out of school to attend a gun control rally and call for sweeping reforms in national gun laws, on April 20, 2018 in Washington Square Park in New York City. (Photo by Andrew Lichtenstein/Corbis via Getty Images)

Beyond the emotional headlines, gun-related violence in the United States has become a serious financial burden, with a $174 billion price tag. Although only deadly incidents like Parkland generally make national headlines, in 2014, students age 12-18 experienced over 841,000 nonfatal school victimizations, with another 545,000 incidents occurring outside of school. During 2013-14, 65 percent of public schools documented at least one victimization incident, totaling 757,000 crimes. The following year, six percent of students reported being threatened with a weapon. The study reports:

In addition, 5.6% of students reported missing school one or more days because they felt unsafe and 4.1% reported carrying a weapon during the previous 30 days. Though violent deaths at school are rare, 53 school-associated violent deaths occurred from July 1, 2012 to June 30, 2013.

Though the dominant number of incidences of bullying, violence, and threats occurred without a weapon, the paper notes that gun access is the “best predictor of gun deaths.” And despite recent calls to arm teachers following the Parkland shooting, the paper makes it clear there is no indication that armed guards or citizens reduce the number of deaths or injuries.

Not that all is lost. As the team writes, the federal ban on assault weapons and large capacity ammunition magazines, which expired in 2004, resulted in a decline in gun violence. After the ban expired, sales of arms with large capacity magazines surged from 10 percent to 34 percent of total weapons. Likewise, the Gun-Free School Zones Act of 1990, which imposed criminal penalties for possession or discharge of firearms, curbed gun violence in schools. 

Given the high number of school shootings, a post-Columbine study by the U.S. Department of Education identified key factors in school gun violence, concluding that such incidents are not “sudden or impulsive”; others knew an attack was imminent; most attackers do not threaten ahead of the incident, though they do exhibit troubling patterns of behavior; most attackers felt bullied and were coping with personal losses or failures; and the attackers have access to guns. Despite a hope on the reliance of profiling, the study found that there is “no accurate or useful profile of the attackers.”

For purposes of this paper, the authors set their own standards for mass school shootings, as the FBI currently has no definition. (A mass murder means four or more people were killed during one incident.) Focusing on grades K-12, and excluding gang violence and university incidents, they write:

We define mass school shooting as a situation in which one or more people intentionally plan and execute the killing or injury of four or more people, not including themselves, using one or more guns, with the killings or injuries taking place on school grounds during the school day or during a school-sponsored event on school grounds.

The first documented shooting fitting these criteria occurred in 1940; the data run until Parkland in 2018. There were no such shootings throughout the fifties and sixties, until the second shooting in 1979. The nineties represented the peak, though our current era, the 2010s, represents the highest number of deaths due to such shootings.

This led the authors to conclude that “mass school shootings present an epidemic that must be addressed.” In 2016, the CDC declared firearm violence a public health crisis. The data confirm this on school grounds: in the 18 years of this century, we’ve already experienced more gun deaths from mass school shootings than during the entirety of the last century (going by the criteria set above).

Katsiyannis calls for a change in public policy and the law. This includes a removal of the current restrictions on firearms violence research, more funding to better understand the impact of school shootings, supporting organizations that conduct such research, and strengthening President Obama’s executive orders addressing school safety after Newtown. The authors conclude by writing:

Deliberate and sensible policy and legislative actions, such as expanded background checks and a ban on assault weapons, along with expanded support to address mental health issues among adolescent students and adults and other related preventative measures will likely reduce the occurrence of such events in the future.


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Maps show how CNN lost America to Fox News

Is this proof of a dramatic shift?

Strange Maps
  • Map details dramatic shift from CNN to Fox News over 10-year period
  • Does it show the triumph of "fake news" — or, rather, its defeat?
  • A closer look at the map's legend allows for more complex analyses

Dramatic and misleading

Image: Reddit / SICResearch

The situation today: CNN pushed back to the edges of the country.

Over the course of no more than a decade, America has radically switched favorites when it comes to cable news networks. As this sequence of maps showing TMAs (Television Market Areas) suggests, CNN is out, Fox News is in.

The maps are certainly dramatic, but also a bit misleading. They nevertheless provide some insight into the state of journalism and the public's attitudes toward the press in the US.

Let's zoom in:

  • It's 2008, on the eve of the Obama Era. CNN (blue) dominates the cable news landscape across America. Fox News (red) is an upstart (°1996) with a few regional bastions in the South.
  • By 2010, Fox News has broken out of its southern heartland, colonizing markets in the Midwest and the Northwest — and even northern Maine and southern Alaska.
  • Two years later, Fox News has lost those two outliers, but has filled up in the middle: it now boasts two large, contiguous blocks in the southeast and northwest, almost touching.
  • In 2014, Fox News seems past its prime. The northwestern block has shrunk, the southeastern one has fragmented.
  • Energised by Trump's 2016 presidential campaign, Fox News is back with a vengeance. Not only have Maine and Alaska gone from entirely blue to entirely red, so has most of the rest of the U.S. Fox News has plugged the Nebraska Gap: it's no longer possible to walk from coast to coast across CNN territory.
  • By 2018, the fortunes from a decade earlier have almost reversed. Fox News rules the roost. CNN clings on to the Pacific Coast, New Mexico, Minnesota and parts of the Northeast — plus a smattering of metropolitan areas in the South and Midwest.

"Frightening map"

Image source: Reddit / SICResearch

This sequence of maps, showing America turning from blue to red, elicited strong reactions on the Reddit forum where it was published last week. For some, the takeover by Fox News illustrates the demise of all that's good and fair about news journalism. Among the comments?

  • "The end is near."
  • "The idiocracy grows."
  • "(It's) like a spreading disease."
  • "One of the more frightening maps I've seen."
For others, the maps are less about the rise of Fox News, and more about CNN's self-inflicted downward spiral:
  • "LOL that's what happens when you're fake news!"
  • "CNN went down the toilet on quality."
  • "A Minecraft YouTuber could beat CNN's numbers."
  • "CNN has become more like a high-school production of a news show."

Not a few find fault with both channels, even if not always to the same degree:

  • "That anybody considers either of those networks good news sources is troubling."
  • "Both leave you understanding less rather than more."
  • "This is what happens when you spout bullsh-- for two years straight. People find an alternative — even if it's just different bullsh--."
  • "CNN is sh-- but it's nowhere close to the outright bullsh-- and baseless propaganda Fox News spews."

"Old people learning to Google"

Image: Google Trends

CNN vs. Fox News search terms (200!-2018)

But what do the maps actually show? Created by SICResearch, they do show a huge evolution, but not of both cable news networks' audience size (i.e. Nielsen ratings). The dramatic shift is one in Google search trends. In other words, it shows how often people type in "CNN" or "Fox News" when surfing the web. And that does not necessarily reflect the relative popularity of both networks. As some commenters suggest:

  • "I can't remember the last time that I've searched for a news channel on Google. Is it really that difficult for people to type ''?"
  • "More than anything else, these maps show smart phone proliferation (among older people) more than anything else."
  • "This is a map of how old people and rural areas have learned to use Google in the last decade."
  • "This is basically a map of people who don't understand how the internet works, and it's no surprise that it leans conservative."

A visual image as strong as this map sequence looks designed to elicit a vehement response — and its lack of context offers viewers little new information to challenge their preconceptions. Like the news itself, cartography pretends to be objective, but always has an agenda of its own, even if just by the selection of its topics.

The trick is not to despair of maps (or news) but to get a good sense of the parameters that are in play. And, as is often the case (with both maps and news), what's left out is at least as significant as what's actually shown.

One important point: while Fox News is the sole major purveyor of news and opinion with a conservative/right-wing slant, CNN has more competition in the center/left part of the spectrum, notably from MSNBC.

Another: the average age of cable news viewers — whether they watch CNN or Fox News — is in the mid-60s. As a result of a shift in generational habits, TV viewing is down across the board. Younger people are more comfortable with a "cafeteria" approach to their news menu, selecting alternative and online sources for their information.

It should also be noted, however, that Fox News, according to Harvard's Nieman Lab, dominates Facebook when it comes to engagement among news outlets.

CNN, Fox and MSNBC

Image: Google Trends

CNN vs. Fox (without the 'News'; may include searches for actual foxes). See MSNBC (in yellow) for comparison

For the record, here are the Nielsen ratings for average daily viewer total for the three main cable news networks, for 2018 (compared to 2017):

  • Fox News: 1,425,000 (-5%)
  • MSNBC: 994,000 (+12%)
  • CNN: 706,000 (-9%)

And according to this recent overview, the top 50 of the most popular websites in the U.S. includes in 28th place, and in... 27th place.

The top 5, in descending order, consists of,,, and — the latter being the highest-placed website in the News and Media category.
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