“Since Sandy Hook there has been a school shooting, on average, every week,” Senator Chris Murphy (D-CT) declared in a floor speech on Wednesday of last week. “How on earth can we live with ourselves if we do nothing?” Maybe the first item on Murphy’s to-do list should be to check his facts, and then chuck anything coming from the gun-control group Everytown into the round file. Their definition of “school shootings,” while evoking the memory of the Newtown massacre by a deranged gunman, actually includes anything where a trigger got pulled — even suicides and accidents, as Michelle Ye Hee Lee discovered after digging into Everytown’s claims of 126 school shootings:
When Everytown first released its tally in 2014, media organizations gave it a lot of publicity — but then had second thoughts once it became clear it was such a broad list. CNN, for instance, initially reported the “74” figure but then determined that only 15 cases were similar to Newtown.
The Fact Checker analyzed each case included in the updated list. Of the 126 cases, 25 were attempted or committed suicides. The majority of the shootings on this list were targeted attacks against individuals stemming from altercations or ongoing conflicts. …
There were at least 10 incidents that were similar to shooting in Newtown, with one shooter opening fire with the intent to kill or injure multiple victims. A separate incident in June 2015 involved a couple that shot and killed a cat on a school campus, but had told law enforcement officials they would have shot students if it were “God’s will.” We did not include that in the list of 10 incidents.
Someone in Connecticut should ask Murphy why he’s using data from a lobbying group rather than the FBI, which actually has a pretty good definition of active shooter situations and keeps tabs on the number. They issued a report last September that covers the time period from 2000-2013 that identified 160 incidents which qualified as mass-shooting incidents. The second-most-common venue for these shootings was K-12 schools, with 39 such reported incidents in thirteen years, which averages to three per year or one every seventeen weeks. That’s still too high, but it raises the question as to why K-12 schools get targeted, with one potential answer being the particular vulnerability of those closed campuses — no police patrols, no armed guards, no barriers for a mass murderer to complete his plans. (The most common venue? Commerce areas open for pedestrian traffic — malls — many of which insist that their customers refrain from carrying firearms as personal protection.)
So how did Everytown get to 126? They included incidents such as one in which a student at a community college accidentally shot himself in the leg while trying to unload his pistol so that it could be stored safely in his car. Another involved the murders of two janitors by a co-worker who had been feuding with them. A kindergartner brought a gun to school in his backpack and it went off. Suicides were included, even though they didn’t involve any other victims except the perpetrator. And so on. It’s quite a display of intellectual dishonesty, demagoguery, and exploitation.
It’s also a pretty good display of idiocy from Senator Murphy, too. Lee notes that this list had already been largely debunked by national media quite a while ago, which is the contributing factor to her decision to give Murphy the full boat of four Pinocchios:
Lawmakers have a responsibility to check out the facts in the reports they use, especially ones that come from advocacy groups. If they are aware there are definitions that are disputed, or that are defined in other ways depending on who uses them, it is incumbent on lawmakers to clarify exactly what they are talking about and not mislead the public. In particular, lawmakers should rely more on official government statistics, such as from the FBI, rather than misleading metrics cobbled together by interest groups.
We wavered between Three and Four Pinocchios. But this is a definition of “school shooting” that was widely disputed a year ago, and lawmakers need to present information — especially for such a controversial topic as gun control — in a clear, responsible and accurate way. Murphy’s failure to do so tipped the rating to Four.
Too bad the scale doesn’t run to five.
Addendum: This, unlike the AP’s “fact check” of Jeb Bush’s contention that US GDP should grow at a 4% clip, actually checks facts.