Of Mice and Molecules...
Another week, another school shooting. We can't get away from the media - there have been 50 shootings this year. 200 students have died. It's terrible. It's a gun issue, it's a mental health issue. Personal responsibility. Political blame. Blah blah blah.
I don't have kids. Hell, I barely know any kids, so the prospect of someone walking into school and mowing down a class of third graders is no sadder for me than an equivalent number of murders in the general populace. What may be perceived by some as heartless is, in at least one valuable way, a blessing: I am not encumbered by emotion when conducting an analysis of something so politically charged as school shootings.
A little while ago, I asked myself something that I haven't heard anyone else mention: are we spending too much time on school shootings? Let's be honest, there's pretty much no way to stop these things from happening, but should we, for example, be spending huge amounts of money on curbing them? Could we use the same amount of money to save more lives elsewhere?
To address this question, one must first get a sense of school shootings. If they're exponentially increasing (as I suspect many suspect, but don't know for a fact) then maybe we're seeing the dawn of a pernicious problem.
Thing is... school shootings have been decreasing for the last four years (data taken from and graphed here) I have no idea why, but the idea that they're an increasingly important issue is not so true. It's media bullshit.
But even if it is a false construct, maybe we should spend our cash on kids. They're the future, and all.
I'm not really going to dig into where we should spend money to save the maximum amount of lives per dollar (the real answer is probably something boring, like universal health care), but to even entertain the notion, we first need to determine whether this is even a significant problem. Simply put: if your kid dies this year, what are the chances it'll be in a hail of gunfire just after third period?
Using this 2015 survey from the CDC, we can see that the majority of young person deaths are from "unintentional injuries" AKA accidents. Youth homicides (the category that includes, but is not be limited to, school shootings) are a respectable 11.6% of all youth deaths. I'd argue this warrants scrutiny as a category. But out of the 7,000 or so kids killed, what fraction of them are school shooting victims?
Basically none. Per the same public database, we can see that in 2015 (the most recent CDC year for comparison) there were 21 deaths from school shootings. I think that includes adults, which chubs up the numbers, but that's fine. Also remember that 2015 was a bad, bad year for school shootings, the second-highest on record. Again, don't worry about it.
The CDC reports, for the same year, a total of 6,952 total homicides for 5-24 year-olds in the same year. School shootings are only 0.29% of the total homicides for young people - it's a tiny, tiny fraction of the kids that are getting killed. A rounding error. But we're seemingly obsessed with it, possibly because no one has the balls to say that, in the context of loss of life, it's just not a big deal.
Logically, a proportionate expenditure of resources on the problem of school shootings would mean about 3 seconds of a 30-minute presentation addressing youth homicides. Imagine that. Adding to this is the futility of addressing the problem: Even if we eliminated all school shootings, there will be a negligible impact on the rate of youths dying.
So why do we over-fixate on small potatoes like this?
Anyone remember the Boston Bombers? Sure you do. Three people were killed by the blasts that day. But that wasn't even the biggest bomb to go off in the US that day. That honor goes to a Texas refinery explosion that killed five times as many people. And you remember one but not the other because one was exciting and the other was just a shit-happens situation.
By recognizing our biases, we can make better decisions. It's one of the recurring themes in my blogging. Maybe I need to find a way to make it sexier.
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Noah's Inner Monologue
Scribblings of a man who can barely operate an idiotproof website.