Accuracy in Media

ClintonThe Washington Post Fact Checker gave former president Bill Clinton three Pinocchio’s for a statement he made last week on assault weapons and mass killings in the U.S.

Half of all mass killings in the United States have occurred since the assault weapons ban expired in 2005, half of all of them in the history of the country.

That’s a pretty bold statement, but not surprising coming from Clinton, who signed an assault weapons ban into law in 1994, which wasn’t renewed when it expired in 2004. His statement comes at a time when emotions and rhetoric on guns are running high after the tragic shootings in Newtown, Connecticut, last month.

Using data assembled from Grant Duwe, director of research and evaluation at the Minnesota Department of Corrections, the Fact Checker found that Clinton’s claim was exaggerated by a fairly wide margin.

Using Duwe’s definition of a mass public shooting as an incident in which four or more victims are killed publicly with guns within 24 hours — in the workplace, schools, restaurants and other public places — excluding shootings in connection with crimes such as robbery, drugs or gangs, there have been 156 incidents in the U.S. in the past 100 years.

Of that number there have been 32 mass shootings since the assault weapons ban expired, which computes to just a little over 20 percent, not the 50 percent that Clinton cited.

The Fact Checker ran the figures by a spokesman for Clinton, but he declined to comment or give an explanation as to where the former president got his facts. I did a quick search on the Internet, but came up empty handed. Even the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence cited no such figure.

The left-wing magazine Mother Jones took a more expansive view of mass killings, but even then their numbers—over 40 percent in the last 30 years—was short of Clinton’s claim and covered a shorter period of history.

Still, the Fact Checker was in a generous mood and decided not to give Clinton’s claim the full four Pinocchio’s that he deserved:

Ordinarily, this might have been a Four Pinocchio claim. Given the fuzziness of the data and questions about definitions, we are going to cut Clinton a bit of slack in the final ruling. But such uncertainty in the data means politicians need to be very careful in making claims about gun violence.

The Fact Checker is right that politicians need to be careful when talking about gun violence, especially when you’re the former president, with a pliable liberal media willing to do your bidding.

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