A year after the tragic shooting at Sandy Hook elementary in Newtown, Connecticut took the lives of 27 children, concerns about escalating school violence remain unfounded.
In fact, violence in schools — like all violence — has fallen dramatically in the past two decades, and remains low by historical standards.
Recently released data from the Departments of Education and Justice found that violence in schools is not increasing. While the number of school shooting deaths varies each year, homicides at school account for just 2 percent of total youth homicides. And school suicides constitute just 1 percent of all youth suicides.
The data does not include the past year, and thus the Sandy Hook shooting was not factored into the report from the National Center for Education Statistics. But what happened exactly one year ago in Newtown is an ugly, tragic outlier, rather than part of a pattern of escalating violence, according to the report.
The psychologically disturbing nature of school shootings causes them to stick in people’s minds and falsely present themselves as a trend, said David Esquith, director of the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Safe and Healthy Students, in a statement to USA Today.
“[The shootings] are so upsetting and traumatic, it reinforces a perception that schools are experiencing a spike in violence and victimization, when in fact they’re not,” he said.
The decline of violence in schools mirrors falling rates of gun violence, suicide and all types of assault over the last few decades. Violent crime spiked in the early nineties after inching upward over the middle part of the 20th century. Since then, violence has declined dramatically. Gun violence, specifically has fallen by 49 percent since 1993.
Even so, people are generally misinformed about the fact that all levels of societal violence are declining. More than half of Americans wrongly believe gun violence is ever increasing — and many of those people support stricter gun control to solve a problem that is only worsening in their own imaginations. (RELATED: Most gun control supporters don’t know gun crime fell)
School shootings still happen, of course — in fact, a shooting at Arapahoe High School in Colorado claimed the life of the shooter and injured two other students on Friday. (Related: Colorado school shooting injures 2; gunman reported dead)
These incidents generate constant media attention and frequent calls for policy changes, including gun control, a heavier police presence in schools and better psychiatric care for would-be killers. And the heart-wrenching faces of dead children create emotional and confused support for such policies. Mother Jones, for instance, recently published a collection of the pictures of every U.S. child killed by a gun since the Sandy Hook shooting.
Newtown residents and agencies have asked the media to stay away during the one-year-anniversary of the shooting on Saturday.