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Different definitions of “school shooting” are contributing to misinformation about the issue.

There are several efforts to track the number of school shootings in the U.S. One of them counted 346 school shootings in 2023. The other counted 37. Both have been cited in media reports – the larger one, more often – but the discrepancy is rarely explained. How could they be so different?

The Violence Project, an independent operation run by data scientist David Riedman, has a “K-12 School Shooting Database.” The tracker includes any incident in which "a gun is brandished, is fired, or a bullet hits school property for any reason, regardless of the number of victims, time, or day of the week." It counted 346 incidents in 2023, and counted nine in the first 12 days of 2024.

EducationWeek (Center bias), a news organization, uses more limited criteria. It counts incidents “where a firearm was discharged, where any individual, other than the suspect or perpetrator, has a bullet wound resulting from the incident, that happen on K-12 school property or on a school bus, and that occur while school is in session or during a school-sponsored event.” This tracker counted 37 incidents in 2023.

Everytown, an activist group that pushes for gun safety, has its own tracker, which includes “every time a firearm discharges a live round inside or into a school building or on or onto a school campus or grounds, as documented by the press.” As of Jan. 12, it counted one incident in 2024– the shooting at Perry High School in Iowa.

When the average person reads about the number of school shootings, they’re likely imagining a scenario closer to the one counted by EducationWeek or Everytown, in which people were injured or killed by gunfire at a school. But the K-12 Violence Project tracker is cited far more often in media reports.

“Nearly 350 school shooting incidents occurred across the U.S. in 2023, data shows,” according to U.S. News and World Report (Lean Left bias).

“There were 346 incidents in which a gun was brandished or fired at school or a bullet hit school property in 2023, according to the K-12 School Shooting Database. That was the highest of any year in the website's data, which goes back to 1966,” reported Reuters (Center bias).

“With a little less than two weeks remaining in the year, some 340 school shootings had been recorded as of Dec. 20 by the K-12 School Shooting Database,” reported K-12 Dive (not rated by AllSides).

These reports mention the Violence Project tracker’s broad criteria, but don’t mention the other data sources.

More extreme statistics get more clicks — a phenomenon known as media bias by sensationalism. In this case, using more dire numbers could also be a sign of negativity bias, in which reporters emphasize bad news — which is where the common adage “if it bleeds, it leads” comes from. 

Unfortunately, many modern media business models are built on this. Don’t let that prevent you from seeing the full picture. Read multiple sources and compare coverage to get a broader view and decide for yourself.

Henry A. Brechter is the Editor-in-chief of AllSides. He has a Center bias.

This blog was reviewed and edited by Director of Marketing and Bias Ratings Julie Mastrine (Lean Right bias), and Director of Research Andrew Weinzierl (Lean Left bias).