science-of-fearThese numbers come from an annual report called Indicators of School Crime and Safety, which Congress demanded after the 1997 “Jonesboro massacre” first brought the issue of school shootings to national prominence. Indicators of School Crime and Safety also tracks what it calls “serious violent crime”—meaning rape, sexual assault, robbery, and assault with a weapon. In 1994, the rate of such crimes in schools was 13 per 1,000 students. That number is a bit misleading, of course, because it is the average across all American schools, and there are big differences between poor, inner-city schools and those in wealthy suburbs or rural regions. Regardless, that rate didn’t last. It fell steadily through the 1990s and by 2004 it was 4 per 1,000 students—less than one-third the level of a decade earlier. In 1993, 12 percent of kids told surveyors they had carried a weapon of some kind onto school property within the last thirty days; a decade later, that had fallen to 6 percent.

So the story inside America’s schools was clear when Indicators of School Crime and Safety was first issued in 1998, and it remains clear today: Murdersin schools are so rare that the risk to any one student is effectively zero, and rates of serious violence have dropped steadily and dramatically. Of course this isn’t people’s sense of reality—thanks mainly to the fact that on April 20, 1999, two heavily armed teenagers walked into Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado. They murdered one teacher and twelve students, wounded twenty-four, and stunned hundreds of millions of people around the world. The Columbine massacre got massive news coverage. The Pew Research Center found that almost seven out of ten Americans said they followed the event “very closely,” making it by far the biggest story of 1999 and the third-biggest story of the entire decade. The biggest story the previous year was the Jonesboro massacre. The Science of Fear: How the Culture of Fear Manipulates Your Brain by Daniel Gardner