Exaggeration and Hysteria Are What School Shooters Want


Defending gun rights is “Defending the indefensible,” writes my friend and fellow columnist Tony Bender.

His column is his usual exercise in tautology – these dummies are dumb because they’re dumb, he’s saying of the people he disagrees with.


But in his section lashing out at me for a column I wrote last month he makes a claim that’s worth rebutting:

And even if you think a monthly pile of corpses is the acceptable price of freedom, let’s consider collateral damage. Rob Port (another beer) recently wrote a column entitled “Who Is Really Afraid to Shop, Worship, or Go to School?”

Well, I’m no psychologist, but returning to the good old days of duck-and-cover drills can’t be conducive to a preschooler’s mental health. A false alarm goes off, and Billy thinks there’s a killer on the loose. A loud noise down the hall has Molly cowering in the janitorial closet. And you don’t think folks worry about that twitchy kid whose meth-addled, heavily-armed parents are never home?

This state of affairs isn’t normal and we should stop pretending it is, and that nothing can be done about it. It’s tough to pursue your constitutional right to happiness when you’re being pursued by a gunman blasting 45 rounds a minute. Even if it’s only in your nightmares.

It saddens me that my friend views the world this way, because it just isn’t so, which was the point I was trying to make in the column which triggered him.

School shootings get an enormous about of media attention. Because they’re bloody and awful and that sort of thing moves copy. They’re also a useful political cudgel, as ghoulish as that is.

[mks_pullquote align=”right” width=”300″ size=”24″ bg_color=”#ffffff” txt_color=”#000000″]Lightning strikes kill about twice as many people each year as die in school shootings…[/mks_pullquote]

The truth, though, is not that many people die from them.

FactCheck.org counted 64 deaths from school shootings – including “students who died after being shot on school grounds, during school hours or after being shot on college campuses—or at student housing—where they were enrolled for classes” – from the Sandy Hook incident in December 2012 through the end of 2018.

That’s about 11 people a year, including college students. Awful, yes, and we shouldn’t diminish that number at all. But about six kids die every year on school buses. Bender wants us to think of school kids darting from class-to-class, taking cover behind trash cans, lest they get mowed down by some shooter.

That’s not happening. Nor would it be justified, if it were.

“Car crashes killed more than 4,000 people 19 or younger in 2017, while 1,430 died from suffocation, nearly 1,000 drowned, a similar number succumbed to drug poisoning, and 340 died from fire or burns,” Reason’s Jacob Sullum wrote recently. “In other words, children and teenagers are about 370 times as likely to die in traffic accidents and about 90 times as likely to die from drowning as they are to be killed in a school shooting.”

Lightning strikes kill about twice as many people each year as die in school shootings, Sullum goes on to note.

Awful things happen in the world all the time. The reaction some have to these mass shootings are out of proportion.

Which isn’t to say we have nothing to fear from what are now being called “Columbiners.”

I’m afraid that people like Bender, eager to stoke fear to grease the skids for their preferred political outcomes, are giving those malcontents precisely what they want.

New York Times analysis of school shootings suggested they’re the American version of suicide bombing. Something beyond a tactic to an ideology:

… the school-shooting copycat syndrome has grown more pervasive and has steadily escalated in recent years. And much of it can be traced back to the two killers at Columbine, previously ordinary high school students who have achieved dark folk hero status — their followers often known as “Columbiners” — in the corners of the internet where their carefully planned massacre is remembered, studied and in some cases even celebrated.

Investigators say school shootings have become the American equivalent of suicide bombings — not just a tactic, but an ideology. Young men, many of them depressed, alienated or mentally disturbed, are drawn to the Columbine subculture because they see it as a way to lash out at the world and to get the attention of a society that they believe bullies, ignores or misunderstands them.

… The role of the media in turning school gunmen into household names and perpetuating “the infamous legacy they desire” can be shown to have inspired additional attacks, researchers at Western New Mexico University reported recently. There have been growing calls for withholding the names and biographies of school gunmen from newspaper and television coverage. The New York Times regularly identifies and profiles the perpetrators, though in order to focus attention on the issue of school shootings and not on the gunmen themselves, this article does not name any of them.

Columbiners, like terrorists, want us to be scared. They want us to live like Bender describes.

Which is why it’s so terribly important that we not given anyone the impression that we are living that way. Because it’s what they want but, more importantly, because it’s the truth.

Mass shooters are pursuing infamy. Why give it to them?