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Despite Ohio shooting, school violent deaths down

A group of students and parents pray for victims of a school shooting on the square in Chardon, Ohio, Tuesday.

The high school shooting in Chardon, Ohio, that left three students dead culminated a month of bloody gun violence in America’s schools, but experts say it’s not necessarily indicative of a troubling trend.

At least four shootings of students have occurred in February in schools across the country. That spate may be mere coincidence. Research indicates killings on school grounds remain rare, and overall violence in schools has been declining in recent years.


The Justice Department’s Bureau of Justice Statistics last week released a study that says school-related violent deaths are at an all-time low since it began tracking such deaths in 1992, The Christian Science Monitor reported.   

The study, “Indicators of School Crime and Safety: 2011,” reported 33 such deaths for the 2009-10 school year; of those, there were 17 homicides and one suicide of students ages 5-18. That translates to a rate of approximately one homicide or suicide of a school-aged youth at school per 2.7 million students enrolled, according to the study.

“Over all available survey years, the percentage of youth homicides occurring at school remained less than 2 percent of the total number of youth homicides, and the percentage of youth suicides occurring at school remained at less than 1 percent of the total number of youth suicides,” the study noted.

Chardon High School student Jonathan Sylak talks to msnbc's Thomas Roberts about the terror at his school.

The study doesn’t shed much light specifically on school shootings, and there doesn’t seem to be a central, authoritative national clearinghouse for such data.

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Washington Ceasefire, a gun prohibition organization, says it has tracked more than 375 school shootings in the past 20 years on its SchoolShooting.org website. The vast majority of these have been nonfatal.

Ralph Fascitelli, the group’s board president, says although school shootings can happen anywhere they’re more likely to happen “if there are guns in the home.”

“If your kids don’t have access to guns then they can’t act on their impulse,” he told msnbc.com.

But Dave Workman, who edits the Second Amendment Foundation's Gun Week magazine, says it would be a fallacy to link home gun ownership to school shootings.

“We have 90 million people in the country who own 230 million firearms and yet school shootings are a relatively rare event. That doesn’t dismiss the fact that they are horrible, terrible tragedies but the fact that so many children grow up in homes where firearms are present tends to refute the claim that having a gun in house is going to contribute to school shootings,” he told msnbc.com.

Both sides agree that school shootings aren't bound by geography and can happen anywhere in the country. Chardon School Superintendent Joseph Bergant II echoed that sentiment.

“We’re not just any old place, Chardon,” Bergant said. “This is every place. As you’ve seen in the past, this can happen anywhere, proof of what we had yesterday.”

Other school shootings in February:

  • A 9-year-old girl at an elementary school in Bremerton, Wash., is killed seriously wounded after a .45-caliber handgun fired accidentally from a backpack carried by a 9-year-old boy.
  • A 14-year-old boy at an elementary school in Walpole, N.H., was hospitalized after shooting himself in the cafeteria
  • Two teens wielding guns shot at a group of kids at a Murfreesboro, Tenn. , school. A 14-year-old was hit twice in the leg.

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