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2018 has already outpaced 2017 in K-12 school shooting deaths

This year really has been worse so far.

Mourners visit a memorial in front of Santa Fe High School on May 21, 2018, in Santa Fe, Texas. The makeshift memorial honors the victims of the May 18 shooting, in which a student entered the school with a shotgun and a pistol and opened fire, killing 10
Mourners visit a memorial in front of Santa Fe High School on May 21, 2018, in Santa Fe, Texas. The makeshift memorial honors the victims of the May 18 shooting, in which a student entered the school with a shotgun and a pistol and opened fire, killing 10 people.
Scott Olson/Getty Images

There’s been another school shooting. This time, a shooter at Noblesville West Middle School in Indiana reportedly injured two people. A suspect is in custody.

The incident comes just a week after the Santa Fe High School shooting in Texas, where 10 people were killed and 13 more were injured. And it comes the same year as the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting in Parkland, Florida, where 17 were killed and another 17 were injured.

If it feels like these incidents are happening more often, it’s not just your imagination. According to data from the Gun Violence Archive, K-12 school shooting deaths and injuries are up in 2018 compared to 2017.

In all of 2017, there were 44 shootings in elementary and secondary schools, resulting in 25 deaths and 60 injuries.

So far in 2018, there have been 28 elementary and secondary school shootings, resulting in 40 deaths and 66 injuries. With the year not even halfway over, 2018 already has more injuries and deaths than all of 2017 and appears to be on track to outpace 2017 in terms of overall incidents.

A chart comparing 2017 and 2018 school shooting casualties. Zac Freeland/Vox

It’s hard to say if this means that the US is seeing a new uptick in school shootings that will sustain for years to come. We’ll simply have to wait for more years of data to know.

In general, America’s gun homicide rate, along with its overall homicide rate, has declined over the past couple of decades. But there was an uptick in homicides over the past couple of years — although, criminologists caution, it’s not clear if the increases will sustain over time.

Even with the drop in the homicide rate over the past decades, though, the US remains an outlier in the developed world when it comes to gun violence. That includes not just school shootings but shootings in general — of which America has far, far more of than any other developed nation in the world.

America’s unique gun violence problem

The US has nearly six times the gun homicide rate of Canada, more than seven times that of Sweden, and nearly 16 times that of Germany, according to United Nations data compiled by the Guardian. (These gun deaths are a big reason America has a much higher overall homicide rate, which includes non-gun deaths, than other developed nations.)

A chart shows America’s disproportionate levels of gun violence. Javier Zarracina/Vox

Mass shootings actually make up a small fraction of America’s gun deaths, constituting less than 2 percent of such deaths in 2016. But America does see a lot of these horrific events: According to CNN, “The US makes up less than 5% of the world’s population, but holds 31% of global mass shooters.”

So why is the US such an outlier? Researchers widely believe that it’s America’s tremendous abundance of and access to guns. According to estimates, in 2007 the number of civilian-owned firearms in the US was 88.8 guns per 100 people, meaning there was almost one privately owned gun per American and more than one per American adult. The world’s second-ranked country was Yemen, a quasi-failed state torn by civil war, where there were 54.8 guns per 100 people.

The research, compiled by the Harvard School of Public Health’s Injury Control Research Center, is clear: After controlling for variables such as socioeconomic factors and other crime, places with more guns have more gun deaths. Researchers have found this to be true not just with homicides but also with suicides (which in recent years accounted for around 60 percent of US gun deaths), domestic violence, and even violence against police.

As a breakthrough analysis by UC Berkeley’s Franklin Zimring and Gordon Hawkins in the 1990s found, it’s not even that the US has more crime than other developed countries. This chart, based on data from Jeffrey Swanson at Duke University, shows that the US is not an outlier when it comes to overall crime:

A chart showing crime rates among wealthy nations.

Instead, the US appears to have more lethal violence — and that’s driven in large part by the prevalence of guns.

”A series of specific comparisons of the death rates from property crime and assault in New York City and London show how enormous differences in death risk can be explained even while general patterns are similar,” Zimring and Hawkins wrote. “A preference for crimes of personal force and the willingness and ability to use guns in robbery make similar levels of property crime 54 times as deadly in New York City as in London.”

A chart showing homicides among wealthy nations.

This is in many ways intuitive: People of every country get into arguments and fights with friends, family, and peers. But in the US, it’s much more likely that someone will get angry at an argument and be able to pull out a gun and kill someone.

Stronger gun laws could help combat this. A 2016 review of 130 studies in 10 countries, published in Epidemiologic Reviews, found that new legal restrictions on owning and purchasing guns tended to be followed by a drop in gun violence — a strong indicator that restricting access to guns can save lives. A review of the US evidence by RAND also linked some gun control measures, including background checks, to reduced injuries and deaths.

But the US maintains some of the weakest gun laws in the developed world. In the case of Noblesville West Middle School, the abundance of guns made it easier for a shooter to pick up a firearm and carry out another shooting at a US school.

For more on America’s gun problem, read Vox’s explainer.

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