An article making the rounds on D.C.-area social media pages makes the claim that there have been 11 school shootings so far this year, but it misses the mark in terms of accuracy.The tragic shooting at Marshall County High School in Benton, Kentucky, this week has once again thrust the issue of school shootings back into the headlines. Two people were killed and 18 others wounded after a 15-year-old student went on a shooting rampage at his school. Since that tragedy, many news outlets have run with headlines declaring this to be the 11th school shooting of the year. WUSA9, a CBS affiliate serving the D.C. area, ran an article on Thursday with the headline shown above. The impression that these articles make is that as horrific as the Kentucky school shooting is, Americans are growing so accustomed to these tragedies that we didn't notice the 10 other school shootings so far this year. This claim of 11 school shootings was provided to WUSA9 by Everytown for Gun Safety, a gun control advocacy organization founded by former-New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg. However, a quick glance through the list of shootings shows that most of the events on the list don't fit into the mold of what the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) considers to be a school shooting. The FBI defines school shootings as active shooter incidents that take place in schools. To the FBI, it isn't enough for a gun simply to be discharged on school grounds. School shootings are deliberate attacks in which a disgruntled school employee, deranged student, or community member brings a firearm to school in order to kill or injure others. You can read more about the FBI's definition and analysis of school shooters here. By all measures, the tragic school shooting in Benton, Kentucky fits that mold. Another school shooting at a high school in Italy, Texas this month fits the definition as well. The difficulty lies in that a number of other incidents have been added to this list and are being lumped in with legitimate school shootings to make the total appear higher.
For example, the list published on WUSA9's website includes the tragic death of Najee Ali Baker, a college football player. He was shot and killed while attending a Delta Sigma Theta sorority party at Winston-Salem State University. By the FBI's definition, this would not qualify as a school shooting. Homicides that happen at fraternity or sorority parties aren't classified as school shootings. There were also two tragic suicides on school grounds so far in 2018, one where a student committed suicide in a school bathroom and another where a 31-year-old man committed suicide in a school parking lot after a standoff with police when school wasn't even in session. As horrific as these cases are, they would not fit under the FBI's definition of a school shooting, especially not the one that occurred in a school parking lot while school was out for winter break. In Iowa, a man was arrested for shooting a BB gun at a school bus. That made the list. In another one of the listed cases, a criminal justice student at a Texas college accidentally fired a pistol he thought was an inoperable gun used for training. Neither of these meet the FBI's definition of a school shooting. When looking at school shooting statistics, it also makes sense to discount the two drive-by shootings that happened outside of schools -- one in New Orleans outside a charter school and another in a parking lot at Wiley College where two parties exchanged gunfire -- and shots that were fired off campus, but sent schools into lockdown because the bullets landed on campus -- like the incident at California State University San Bernardino, or a high school in Washington state where a single bullet flew through the window of the school's administrative offices. After discounting these incidents, we are left with two cases so far in 2018 that fit the FBI's definition of a school shooter, a far cry from the 11 that made the list. Make no mistake, that is still two school shootings too many, and any time a gun is discharged at or near a school is cause for concern. But to inflate these statistics to include gang-connected drive-bys and suicides in parking lots when a school isn't even in session does the gun debate a great disservice, and D.C.-area media outlets should do a better job of vetting information they get from lobbyist organizations for accuracy before hitting the publish button.