The media had a field day with the anti-gun protest on the Washington Mall over the weekend. As much as the visuals lent themselves to televsion, and the rhetoric confirmed the biases of many of those covering the event, the hard truth is the speakers were long on emotion, and short on facts.
In the immediate aftermath of the Parkland shooting, progressive activists and commentators (including this one) repeatedly claimed that there had been 18 school shootings since the start of this year. This proved to be a gross exaggeration. In reality, according to new research from Northeastern University, there have been a grand total of eight mass shootings (shootings that kill at least four people) at K-through-12 schools in the United States since 1996. Meanwhile, over the past 20 years, the number of fatal shootings in American schools (of any kind) has plummeted.
If mass school shootings were the only form of gun violence in the United States, the case for treating the regulation of firearms as a pressing policy issue would actually be fairly weak. For the past quarter-century, there has been an average of one mass murder (a killing of four or more people committed with any weapon, as opposed to just firearms) in an American school each year. Every one of those atrocities is a blight on humanity. But it is nearly impossible to design a policy that can bring the incidence of an already exceptionally rare crime down to zero — and given the inherently limited nature of legislative time and resources, it would make little sense to prioritize such a marginal and difficult issue over public health challenges that kill exponentially more people.