The first school shooting, in fact, is older than America. It took place in 1764 when four Lenape warriors shot a Pennsylvania teacher in front of his students. Since then, motives have varied, but the effect has always been similarly grim. In 1853, a student in Kentucky shot and killed a teacher for punishing his brother. In 1891, a 70-year-old man fired a shotgun at students at a school playground in Newburgh, N.Y. In 1946 a 15-year-old student was shot in the basement of his Brooklyn school by "seven thugs."
School shootings, in short, are not a new phenomenon, and have occurred with relative frequency since before the Civil War.
The problem, certainly, has gotten worse with the rise of semiautomatic weapons. A scan of newspaper headlines reveals that prior to their proliferation, multiple fatalities in school shootings were a rarity. In 1917, for instance, a young man shot and killed a high school student. But according to The New York Times reporter covering the story, he had no opportunity to reload his weapon and had to use “some pieces of old iron” to fight through the crowd and make his escape.
And the problem has also become more visible. Whereas once a distant shooting garnered little attention in crowded local newspapers, TV cable news teams are now on the ground within hours to play out every possible angle of a story.