Candles with the names of shooting victims written on them sit at a memorial near Sandy Hook Elementary School, Sunday, Dec. 16, 2012 in Newtown, Conn. (AP Photo/Jason DeCrow)
This article was originally posted at the invaluable Studentactivist.net.
We’re seeing a lot of suggestions today from the right side of the political spectrum that events like the massacre at a Connecticut elementary school are something novel in American history — that they’re a reflection of the fact that we took prayer out of schools, or that our society has lost its sense of morality, or something.
Well, a couple of years ago I did some casual research on the history of American school shootings. A conservative scholar on a blog I read at the time had said that he’d looked for evidence of such shootings in the 1940s and 1950s, and found none, so I fired up the search engine for the archives of the New York Times, looking for articles published between January 1, 1940 and December 31, 1959 that included the words ”shot” and “school.”
The search returned 4,940 results.
Most of these weren’t actually articles about school shootings, of course. Many were stories about gun violence that happened to refer to a school that a perpetrator or victim attended. A significant number were sports coverage — articles about target shooting competitions, or shot-put records, or even teams that the Times believed to have a shot at a state or national title.
But as I made my way through the articles, I found that eighteen of the first two hundred were reports of school shootings in which one or more people were killed or wounded.
There were three suicides and six homicides among these eighteen incidents. More than half involved a student perpetrator, and at least three were accidental shootings on school grounds.
Reading these stories, each of which I’ve excerpted below, suggests a world in which gun violence was anything but rare in the school setting. There were premeditated killings alongside instances in which tempers flared or caution was absent, and the Times seems not to have been terribly surprised by any of it. (In March of 1949, for instance, when a student at New York’s elite Stuyvesant High School accidentally shot one of his classmates with a 38-caliber revolver, the story got just five short paragraphs on page 30, and the shooter was charged only with “juvenile delinquency.”)