Gun nuts could barely contain their glee when former Daily Caller reporter Charles Johnson known for his accuracy and attention to detail, went on a Twitter truth quest to debunk school shooting statistics published this week by Everytown, a gun-control advocacy group.
Everytown’s most recent report shows 74 school shootings since the 2012 massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown. The umbrella group, made up of former New York mayor Michael Bloomberg’s Mayors Against Illegal Guns and Shannon Watts’ Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, is clear about how they arrive at that tally: they count school shootings as anytime a gun goes off inside a school building or grounds. But Johnson, intrepid journalist that he is, was skeptical. In what may be the most tortuous sentence ever constructed, he wrote, “It’s not a school shooting when someone goes and shoots a specific person on campus. It’s a shooting that happens to take place at school.”
CNN took the bait and dissected Everytown’s list to come to their own count, settling on 15 school shootings, defined as a minor or adult actively shooting inside or near a school.
The crux of Johnson’s and now CNN’s position is that shootings that arise from arguments, or gang violence, or suicides, aren’t, as Johnson put it, “mass school shootings and shouldn't be treated as such.” It’s important to note the only person using the word “mass” is Johnson. Everytown says that they document as many school shootings as they see reported in the media.
So Johnson “debunked” something that Everytown never claimed. But he was proving a point here: that some school shootings count and others don’t. In Johson’s view, most of the incidents where guns have gone off inside a school are “fake”—i.e., they don’t count as school shootings.
So how many students have to die before it counts as a “school shooting”? Is a school with students in gangs an automatic disqualification? Let’s look at a few and figure out Johnson’s twisted logic together.
In April, a gunman at Kent State University in Ohio shot himself during an argument with two women. Hearing gunfire, administrators put the school on lockdown. Frightened students tweeted photos of armed and ready police. Freshman McKenzie King, who happened to be a student at Chardon High School where three students were killed in a 2012 school shooting, hid in her room. “Is this for real, am I going through it once more?" she thought. “I got really scared then.”
Sorry, McKenzie—doesn’t count.
Here, a former student pulled a fire alarm to attract potential victims before threatening his roommate, who escaped. The former student had built several bombs and was armed with multiple weapons. He had written a manifesto in which his hero pulled the fire alarm, “then went to grab his guns … they all started screaming and scrambling over each other, he looked around and fired and fired and fired.” Luckily, he shot and killed himself before anyone else was hurt.
Just a random incident. Could have happened anywhere. Doesn’t count.
Around 22 students in 17-year-old Joseph Poynter’s English class at La Salle High School in Cincinnati witnessed his suicide attempt. The honors student shouted at a teacher, before lifting the semi-automatic handgun he had brought from home to his temple and firing. Some shocked students ran from the room, others were ushered out.
At Delaware Valley Charter School in Philadelphia, a gun that 17-year-old Raisheem Rochwell had to protect himself from an anticipated after-school fight accidentally went off, striking an 18-year-old student in her left arm and a 17-year-old student in the shoulder. One parent with a daughter inside the school at the time of the shooting said this: “A school is supposed to be a safe environment. Are you kidding me? Two kids just got shot. How was a child, or whoever, [able to] bring a gun up in the school?"
The report Johnson links to says nothing about gang activity, so we’ll just have to take his word that he’s in the know about Philadelphia’s gang activity. And if it was gang related, what does that change?
You can read Johnson’s full self-satisfied rant here.
We keep a tally of school shootings at The Daily Beast, too, using a slightly different methodology. We include only shootings that occur on school campuses while students are present. We count shootings that result in no fatalities as well as those where the only victim was a shooter who committed suicide.
We published a report last year using our data to show just what a school shooting looks like, noting specifically: “These events aren’t necessarily the types of tragedies that come to mind when one thinks of “school shootings”—madmen in fatigues roaming school hallways, strapped with automatic-style guns, murdering indiscriminately—nor do they receive the media attention of such mass shootings. But they can be similarly traumatizing for students and staff, and they have led to at least 24 injuries and 17 deaths over the past year.”
The following day, another school shooting at Arapahoe High School added to our tally. As of today, we count 68 school shootings, with 28 dead, and 66 injured.
The irony that Johnson fails to see is that his point is precisely the one that Everytown is trying to make. These “fake” school shootings mean that guns are all too prevalent in our schools—the places we send our children with the understanding that they will be safe. The reports he throws away as unimportant obfuscation from Everytown highlight a real and growing need for some reform that makes guns less available for young people to obtain and use in gang violence, in violent crimes, in suicides, and yes, in his small-minded version of what a school shooting is.