UT-Dallas creates database of school shootings to inform policy, discussions

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Photo Credit: Veronica Jones | Daily Texan Staff

Advertising senior Madi Poirot remembers reading The New York Times headline, “After Sandy Hook, More Than 400 People Have Been Shot in Over 200 School Shootings,” in February and being surprised.

“I was like, ‘There’s no way,’” Poirot said. “I’ve only heard of like five in the last year.”

In an effort to clarify recent media reports of school safety, Nadine Connell, director for Center for Crime and Justice Studies at UT-Dallas, is working with students at UTD to create a database of school shootings in the U.S. since 1990.

“A lot of the media discussion has centered around mass shootings and rampage-like shootings at schools, but when they do that, they include a number that includes a lot of different types of incidents,” Connell said.

The February New York Times story used data from the nonprofit Gun Violence Archive, which was established in response to the 2014 Sandy Hook Elementary school shooting.

Connell, an associate professor at UT-Dallas, warns stories like these can be misleading because they often lump together any gun-related event or death at K-12 schools and university campuses when discussing mass shootings.

“We believe this gives people a false sense of what’s happening,” Connell said. “Mass shootings and rampage (K-12) school shootings are very rare.”

Another story by CNN described school shooting incidents in 2018 and reported, “There has been, on average, 1 school shooting every week this year.” But the CNN story included incidents of gang violence, fights and domestic violence, which Connell said differ from mass school shootings.

“That’s not a school shooting the way we think about it (as a mass school shooting),” Connell said. “Those situations where community or gang violence gets in the way of schools are probably more common than the situations we’ve seen in the last (year).”

Understanding the differences among incidents is important to prevention efforts and policy-making, Connell said.

“We need to make sure our conversation has accurate information because it’s not going to be a one-size-fits-all approach,” Connell said. “If we don’t have accurate data, then we have no way of knowing if what we do is going to matter.”

By searching public records and news articles, Connell and her students will create detailed accounts of every incident in which someone has been injured or killed by a firearm on a K-12 campus.

“The goal of the database is to look at every single time a gun was discharged and an injury or fatality happened to understand what that means for schools from a prevention standpoint,” Connell said.

Connell said the database should be available to the public by the end of the year.

Poirot said she would be interested in using the database to understand whether there has been a spike in school shootings.

Parisa Mahmud, electrical and computer engineering freshman, said news reports of the deaths in Parkland, Florida, and Sandy Hook Elementary School inspired her to participate in the Saturday March For Our Lives protest, but she said she has also seen false information about gun violence spread on Twitter.

“I think a lot of people are quick to believe the first statistic you see and, depending on where you get your news from, they might be leaning towards a certain opinion on gun violence,” Mahmud said.

Connell said students should read stories beyond headlines to better understand news reports.