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The media is out of control in its push for gun control

Greg Nash

Fact checkers are out of control, and on the issue of guns they no longer even try to pretend impartiality. Especially on social media, this is becoming a serious problem.

Facebook has been working with organizations such as PolitiFact, Snopes and to filter news. Stories deemed “false” by these organization are labeled as false and are much more difficult to spread virally.

{mosads}A couple of years ago, Fox News’ Special Report cited some research on mass public shootings by the Crime Prevention Research Center, which I preside over. When that old story recently started trending on Facebook, Snopes stepped in to stop it. Snopes’ verdict was that our numbers were “accurate based on the CPRC’s definition of a mass shooting, but also extremely misleading.”


President Obama’s kept claiming that the United States was unique in terms of mass public shootings. So in 2016, we looked over the years of Obama’s tenure and found that Europe had experienced more casualties per capita and a similar rate of attacks compared to the U.S.

Snopes’ attack never mentioned that we had used the FBI’s traditional definition of mass public shootings. This definition excludes gang fights over drug turf and specifies what constitutes a public place. Instead, Snopes preferred the definitions used by Michael Bloomberg’s Everytown for Gun Safety and Mother Jones.

So Snopes doesn’t exclude violence such as gang fights. Nor does it require four or more people to have been killed, even though Everytown and Mother Jones followed that standard themselves. Instead, Snopes utilize the new definition adopted by the FBI in 2013, which also counts shootings with three fatalities. Presumably, the Obama administration favored this methodology because it produced an increase in the official count of mass public shootings. But Snopes didn’t bother to mention that the “4 or more” definition has been in place for over three decades and is still used by essentially all academics.

As to Snopes’ claim that we “obscure the reality that mass shootings are very rare in most countries,” their evidence is that when one looks at individual countries in Europe and compares them to the United States, each individual European country only had attacks in occasional years. By contrast, the United States had attacks in each and every year. But this argument makes no sense. Europe as a whole also had attacks in each and every year, and in most years suffered more mass public shooting deaths than the U.S. If you are going to look at all these smalls individual countries in Europe, you might as well compare them to U.S. states with similar populations. The patterns end up being very similar.

You just can’t compare the U.S. with 320 million people to a country like Norway with just five million and expect Norway to have as many attacks.

But the media keeps making the same old claims. “We are the only country that has wide access to these kind of weapons and no one else has the frequency or the intensity of these kind of mass shootings,” George Stephanopoulos told Dana Loesch on Feb. 25 on ABC News’ This Week. Loesch corrected him, noting: “France had a higher casualty rate in one year than the entire two administrations of Barack Obama. And they’re a fifth of our population.”

As we’ve just observed, Stephanopoulos’ claim that the U.S. is unique is completely absurd. But PolitiFact didn’t fact check Stephanopoulos. Instead, it went after Loesch, complaining: “NRA’s Loesch cherry-picks terrorism deaths in France to argue against assault weapon ban.”

Yet France only had six mass public shootings during the Obama administration while the U.S. had 29, even though it’s a much smaller country. PolitiFact concedes that while the four French attacks of 2015 had more casualties than all 29 U.S. shootings during the Obama presidency. But they reject the comparison with France because they don’t view the mass public shootings in France and the U.S. as comparable. They claim our definition of shootings in a public place that don’t involve another crime as arbitrary, and they don’t even mention that we had used the FBI’s traditional definition for such shootings. 

PolitiFact also criticizes our comparison of conviction rates for concealed handgun permit holders versus police, but they don’t even understand that the point they focus on makes our claim even stronger.

Fact checkers very rarely even reach out to ask questions about research that would undermine the media’s gun control narrative. Most economists and criminologists who publish empirical, peer-reviewed research in the area are very skeptical of gun control laws. But these fact checkers only seem to reach out to academics who support gun control, and they don’t respond when we reach out to point out errors.

These fact checkers are being set up as the ultimate arbiters of the news you get on Facebook and other social media sites. But while supposedly holding others to account, they apparently don’t believe that rules of transparency apply to themselves. Virtually none of them will even respond to questions about mistakes in their analyses.

John R. Lott, Jr., Ph.D. is the president of the Crime Prevention Research Center and the author more recently of “The War on Guns” (Regnery, 2016)

Tags Barack Obama Everytown for Gun Safety Facebook gun violence Guns John Lott Journalism media News media PolitiFact Second Amendment

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