Public officials and commentators claimed on Twitter that Wednesday’s high school shooting in Florida is the 18th school shooting of the year.
“Maybe, just maybe, after 18 school shootings in America in just 43 days of 2018 the Congress might want to consider common-sense gun safety legislation and save innocent lives,” Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders tweeted.
“There have been at least 18 school shootings since 2018 began,” tweeted New York Mayor Bill de Blasio.
Democratic Sen. Bob Casey tweeted, “I pray for the families whose lives have been shattered by yet another school shooting –18th of 2018.”
The commonly cited “18 school shootings” statistic counts suicides and accidental firearm discharges on school grounds as “school shootings.” The Florida incident is the first school mass shooting of 2018, according to FBI standards.
Many public figures claimed that the Wednesday incident is the 18th school shooting of 2018. The claims cited a database of school shootings that is maintained by Everytown for Gun Safety, a nonprofit that advocates for gun control measures.
Everytown’s database includes any publicly known incident in which “a firearm discharges a live round inside a school building or on a school campus or grounds.”
This is a broad standard, and Everytown ends up grouping relatively minor incidents together with serious active shooter situations like what happened in Florida. Law enforcement officials apply a considerably more rigorous standard to distinguish an active shooter situation from less serious gun incidents.
Federal agencies like the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security define an active shooter as an “individual actively engaged in killing or attempting to kill people in a populated area,” such as a school or college campus. In previous analyses of active shooter situations, the FBI has accordingly excluded gun incidents that “appeared generally not to have put others in peril,” going on to list “the accidental discharge of a firearm in a school building or a person who chose to publicly commit suicide in a parking lot” as specific examples.
Many of the incidents that Everytown listed as school shootings fall under these exact two types of situations.
The very first school shooting of 2018 according to the database, for instance, is an incident involving a 31-year-old man shooting and killing himself in a Michigan elementary school parking lot. No teachers or students were harmed or even on the premise, as the school had closed back in June.
Another incident listed in Everytown’s database involved a third grade student at a Minnesota special needs school pulling the trigger of a school liaison officer’s holstered gun. The officer was sitting on a bench, distracted while talking to other children. The bullet hit the ground and no one was injured.
The database also includes a situation where a student at a Texas college accidentally fired a gun at an indoor target. The college’s criminal justice club’s adviser, a law enforcement officer, had left the room with the club’s training gun, mistaking it for his loaded gun. After he left, a student picked up and fired what she thought was the training gun at a target. No one was injured in the incident.
Everytown additionally considers one-off acts of crime involving guns as school shootings.
One example is an incident in which a Maryland high school student was shot in what appeared to have been an attempted robbery. The incident took place on school grounds after classes had ended for the day, although extracurricular activities were still ongoing on the other side of the school’s campus. The victim was admitted and shortly thereafter released from a hospital. Police charged two teens, who the victim knew, with attempted murder the next day.
None of these circumstances involved an active shooter situation. Some incidents listed by Everytown did, such as a January Kentucky high school shooting that left two dead and over a dozen others injured, but many simply involved a firearm being discharged on school property.
And even the Kentucky incident, the second worst school shooting of 2018, did not meet the FBI’s threshold of at least four deaths to be categorized as a “mass shooting.”
Loaded firearms are dangerous and can injure others, but accidental gunshots and public suicides are categorically different, as the FBI has noted, than Wednesday’s incident in which an individual with no clear motive consciously fired a semi-automatic assault rifle at crowds of students.
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