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School shootings are an exceedingly rare occurrence in any country outside the United States. And even as they represent a fraction — albeit a growing one — of overall gun violence in America, the shooting at Oxford High School in suburban Detroit shows just how devastating their toll on communities can be.
Since Columbine, the desire to keep kids safe on school property has spawned a multibillion-dollar school industry promising to “harden” schools with physical security measures to protect against potential threats. Oxford High School is a prime example of that effort: The school had a full-time sheriff’s deputy, was blanketed with security cameras, and is one of the more than 90 percent of U.S. schools that hold lockdown drills.
The school (and the surrounding district) holds active shooter drills using a program developed by the ALICE Training Institute. The concept directs students toward a proactive approach for active shooting situations, including barricading themselves in rooms and even confronting shooters directly. After Tuesday’s tragedy, police and some Oxford students praised the training they received, saying it helped prevent an even worse situation. Yet ALICE’s model has come under scrutiny, especially because, as we’ve reported, there’s scant evidence for the approach’s efficacy. In any case, the school hardening and active shooter training didn’t forestall violence at Oxford. “The response was executed perfectly, yet four children were killed and multiple injuries occurred,” said the Oakland County prosecutor leading the criminal case. “We really can’t train ourselves out of this tragedy.”
In a nation where there are more guns than people, some experts have argued that schools would be better served investing in other preventive measures. That includes greater mental health training and resources, anti-bullying or social inclusion campaigns, better threat assessments, or gun reforms to catch or mitigate the warning signs that often presage public mass shooters.
As investigators have pored through evidence about the Oxford shooting, they say they found “egregious” indications of missed warning signs. Authorities said that starting the day before the shooting, the suspect had two meetings with school officials, including one his parents attended, over “concerning” behavior flagged by teachers that allegedly included a violent drawing. And prosecutors announced they would bring involuntary manslaughter charges against the parents after they learned that the gun used in the shooting was purchased by the suspect’s father and made “available” to the boy, the Associated Press reports. While Michigan does not have a child access prevention law, which would require parents to secure their weapons in a home where children are present, prosecutors said the parents’ actions went “far beyond negligence.” — Tom Kutsch, newsletter editor
What to know this week
- A RAND Corporation survey of 173 gun policy researchers, advocates and analysts found a field divided among those who want permissive policies on gun use and ownership versus the many more who favored restrictive ones. But five of the policies in the survey drew more widespread support: prosecution of prohibited gun possessors, expanded mental health prohibitions on gun ownership, child access prevention laws, getting prohibited possessors to surrender their firearms, and gun prohibitions for people subject to domestic violence orders. The survey also found that the experts generally agreed on end policy goals, like reducing gun murders and suicides, even when they disagreed on which specific policies would achieve them.
- Young people are more likely to die from gun violence in places where poverty is more highly concentrated, according to a new study published in JAMA Pediatrics. Researchers estimated that 34,292 fewer people between the ages of 5 and 24 would have died between 2007 and 2016 if they had lived in counties in the lowest quintile of poverty concentration.
- Cook County, Illinois, where Chicago is located, has generally charged fewer people with crimes since 2000, but Black defendants now make up a greater share of those charged. That’s partly due to an uptick in weapons charges through 2018: Whereas the number of Black defendants facing gun charges increased by 49 percent, the number of white defendants in similar cases fell by 39 percent.
- Police agencies with diversity similar to their communities see a lower rate of police killings, according to a new study. The effect was particularly pronounced for people of color, who were less often victims of police shootings when law enforcement was more diverse.
- A federal appeals court restored California’s high-capacity magazine ban, which was first struck down in 2019 in part on the assertion it infringed on residents’ Second Amendment rights. The decision could also presage a court reinstatement of the state’s semiautomatic weapons ban, which was struck down earlier this year by the same district court judge.
- Americans bought 1.42 million guns last month, according to our updated analysis of FBI data. That’s down 20 percent from the same month last year, but still one of the higher months on record.The Los Angeles City Council unanimously voted to ban the possession, transfer, or sale of ghost guns, as well as restrict ghost gun kits that easily allow people to build untraceable firearms at home.
New, from The Trace
Baltimore’s crime plan is missing a key component: community buy-in. Focused deterrence aims to reduce violent crimes by offering those closest to the front lines a choice: stop the violence and accept assistance with housing, employment, addiction and counseling, or face severe legal consequences. The model, predicated on the notion that the bulk of violence in any city is driven by small groups of people, has found success in places like Boston and Oakland. But two previous iterations have fallen flat in Baltimore. Current Mayor Brandon Scott has fully committed to the model with the help of federal stimulus money, but the challenge now is to earn the trust and support of community members, who are crucial to the model’s success but fatigued by previous attempts at combating violence. “People here in the city are tired,” one resident told J. Brian Charles in a new article about the plan.
Spotlight on solutions
It’s time to fix Illinois’ crime victims compensation system. A group of health care providers, survivors, and activists argues in this Trace commentary piece that the state needs to make financial help far more accessible to people who have faced gun violence. The Illinois Crime Victim Compensation Program was designed to lessen the lingering, wide-ranging impacts of gun violence on victims and their families, but as The Trace reported this summer, the program is falling far short of its goals.
Starting next August, the Crime Victim Compensation Program will offer up to $45,000 for each survivor or immediate family member per crime to address outstanding hospital bills, seek mental health support, relocate their home address, and more. These services are key because they address and reduce families’ risk factors for violence, preventing vulnerable people from being victimized again. The authors ask state officials to enact a range of measures during this critical moment of implementation. “Until survivors and family members receive the compensation that they deserve,” they write, “they remain at risk of further victimization, financial hardship, job loss, and societal alienation — all factors that sustain the cycle of gun violence.”
All four victims of Tuesday’s shooting at Oxford High School shooting were students, ranging in age from 14 to 17. Here’s who they were:
Hana St. Juliana, 14, a freshman, was set to make her debut on the high school’s basketball team the night of the shooting. “We will never forget your kind heart, silly personality, and passion for the game,” the team tweeted. She was also on the volleyball team, and she loved to cook. A family friend said Hana was “kind, gentle and generous, really one of the best kids we’ve ever known. She was a special kid, always willing to help.”
Tate Myre, 16, a junior, may have run toward the gunman in an attempt to stop him, according to multiple students. A sheriff’s deputy raced him to the hospital in a squad car, but he reportedly died on the way. Coach Ross Wingert said the star football player and wrestler always “did what he was asked to do, and he did it with a full heart, too.” Tate was the youngest of three boys, and was already being recruited by colleges for his football talents. Nearly 190,000 people have signed a petition to rename the school stadium after him.
Madisyn Baldwin, 17, a senior, had already been accepted to several colleges, some on full scholarships. She was an artist who loved to draw. Her grandmother, who started a GoFundMe to help cover expenses, said, “She touched so many people, she had so much patience. She was so kind.” The eldest of three, Madisyn is survived by a brother and two sisters.
Justin Shilling, 17, a senior, played on the golf team and was co-captain of his bowling team, and juggled three after-school jobs. One of his workplaces, a restaurant called Anita’s Kitchen, remembered him as “an exemplary employee, a devoted friend and co-worker … and simply a pleasure to be around” in an online tribute. Justin’s family donated his organs on Friday afternoon, shortly before he was taken off life support.