So Tyler Cowen linked to this report discussing the overall decline in violence in American schools despite the spate of school shootings in the news; as he often does, Cowen doesn’t express an explicit opinion on what he links to, but certainly he wouldn’t be the only academic libertarian to believe that mass shootings are distracting outliers that cloud, rather than elucidate, the real issue of the relationship between guns and crime. For example, here is Mike Munger calling school shootings a “non-existent threat,” while here he is linking to a Jeffrey Goldberg article making the broader point that gun ownership is increasing while overall crime is decreasing. Whether this is Cowen’s general line of thought or not, that line of thought does represent a misunderstanding of the issue. In this sense, the school issue really is a microcosm of the overall situation in the United States.

Beginning in the 1960s, the United States suffered a  severe crime wave, fueled largely by lead (perhaps in interaction with other socioeconomic factors), that had broad effects on American geography, urbanity, politics, society, and economics that are still strongly felt today. That wave peaked in the late ‘80s-early ’90s and since then almost all crime everywhere in the country has been in steep secular decline. This has been awesome.

Here, on the other hand, is data from Mother Jones, who seem to have the comprehensive list of mass shootings in the United States since 1982:


So clearly a growing problem. And a totally distinct one from whether “crime” is high or not. Two different problems, two different root causes, two different policy networks required to address them.

This is why handwaving at the mass shooting problem with palabum about increasing overall safety and low odds of victimization is not a very good strategy, just like doing the same re: terrorism is not a very good strategy for managing people’s fears about that. But it’s even worse when the problem is demonstrably worsening.