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Bloomberg's latest stats on school gun violence ignore reality

Are schools and colleges dangerous places, with lots of gun violence?

Some groups paint a picture of these places being particularly unsafe. Supposedly both murders and firearm suicides are very common at educational institutions. Last Wednesday, former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s two groups, Moms Demand Gun Sense in America and Mayors Against Illegal Guns, jointly released a report that received massive uncritical news coverage.

They claimed that 44 shootings occurred in schools and colleges nationwide since the Newtown, Conn. massacre on Dec. 14, 2012 and Feb. 10 of this year. Out of the 44 shootings, a total of 28 died. To dramatize their numbers, Bloomberg’s groups emphasized that one of these attacks occurred every 10 days.

But their statistics are not what they seem. Included in the numbers are suicides. Also included are late night shootings taking place in school parking lots, on their grounds or even off school property, often involving gangs. As “shootings,” they also include any incident where shots were fired, even when nobody was injured.

Look at some of the cases included in their misleading statistics:

A student at Eastern Florida State College retrieved his gun from his car when two men attacked him. One of the men was striking the student with a pool cue, and the student fired his gun wounding him. The gun was legally stored in the student’s car and the police found that he had acted in self-defense.

A 19-year-old was killed at 9pm in a field near the Hillside Elementary School in San Leandro, California.

A professor at the South Dakota School of Mines & Technology committed suicide in an empty classroom.

A 23-year-old man committed suicide late at night on school grounds when no one was around the Algona High/Middle School in Iowa.

A 38-year-old man was shot to death at 2am on the grounds of the Clarksville, Tennessee High School.

A 19-year-old man committed suicide in the parking lot of a Portland, Maine high school. No one at the school was threatened.

The list goes on and on. Overall,

• About 40 percent of the deaths (11 out of 28) were suicides.

• Out of the 28 K-12 school shootings, at least four, possibly as many as eight, were gang shootings. Several of the college cases probably also involved gangs.

Indeed, gangs are a major problem. But they aren’t just a threat off school campuses. And some schools just happen to be located near dangerous areas, so the gang activity spills over to school grounds. Linking such violence to the Newtown tragedy is highly misleading.

Also, some perspective is needed. Contrary to what many people believe, high school shootings have actually been falling over the last two decades. To illustrate this let’s compare the five school years 1992-93 to 1996-97 with the five school years from 2008-09 to 2012-13. During the first period, the number of non-gang, non-suicide shooting deaths averaged 25 a year. During the recent five-year period, it averaged less than half that, 10 per year – and that figure does include the horrific Newtown massacre.

To put these numbers in perspective, there are about 50 million young people between the ages of 6 and 17. Another 21 million people are enrolled in colleges.

One of the motivations behind the report put out by the gun control groups was that the media was ignoring these so-called “mini-Newtowns.” Yet, all of these cases received extensive coverage. A gun at a school (or even near a school) is considered newsworthy. For example, USA Today ran at least one story on 24 of these cases.

Scaring Americans may be Bloomberg’s only tool for drumming up support for gun control laws. But it ultimately shows how little faith that gun control advocates have in their case.

John R. Lott, Jr. is a columnist for FoxNews.com. He is an economist and was formerly chief economist at the United States Sentencing Commission. Lott is also a leading expert on guns and op-eds on that issue are done in conjunction with the Crime Prevention Research Center. He is the author of eight books including "More Guns, Less Crime." His latest book is "Dumbing Down the Courts: How Politics Keeps the Smartest Judges Off the Bench" Bascom Hill Publishing Group (September 17, 2013). Follow him on Twitter@johnrlottjr.