Accuracy in Media

chris murphy

It almost goes without saying that every time there is a shooting of some kind, liberals rail against gun violence and call for stricter gun control laws.

The tragic Sandy Hook school shooting in December 2012, which resulted in the deaths of 20 children and six staff members, has been a particular focus of gun control advocates, with the most recent being Sen. Chris Murphy (D-CT). In a speech on gun violence, Murphy said that there has been an average of one school shooting a week since that fateful day in Newtown, Conn.

That would equate to around 128 school shootings—a number the Post called “eye-popping.”

According to the Post, the source of this claim is a report by Everytown for Gun Safety, which describes itself as “a movement of Americans working together to end gun violence and build safer communities.”

The group has been tallying the number of school shooting since Sandy Hook. But as the Post points out, they use a broad definition of what constitutes a school shooting—whenever a firearm is discharged on school or campus grounds at K-12 schools and colleges. This is how the group explains its methodology on its website:

Incidents were classified as school shootings when a firearm was discharged inside a school building or on school or campus grounds, as documented by the press or confirmed through further inquiries with law enforcement. Incidents in which guns were brought into schools but not fired, or were fired off school grounds after having been possessed in schools, were not included.

Over the course of two years, we identified a total of three incidents in which a private citizen discharged a firearm at a school that was ultimately determined to be self-defense — February 4, 2013 at Martin Luther King, Jr., High School in Detroit, MI, January 30, 2014 at Eastern Florida State College, and April 7, 2014 at Eastern New Mexico University. These three incidents were not included in the analysis.

This broad definition includes accidental gun discharges, armed robberies, gang fights, attempted and committed suicides as well as Sandy Hook type shootings.

According to the Post, there isn’t a standard method to count school shootings. But PolitiFact Oregon whittled Everytown’s list down to 35 school shootings, including incidents in which a shooter was on campus during school hours and presented a potential risk to individual lives.

Sen. Murphy, however, prefers the broader definition since it gives his anti-gun crusade more fodder. His spokesman, Chris Harris, pointed out that the senator defines school shooting as “gunfire on school property.”

“Senator Murphy believes that schools are no place for deadly weapons. Any and all gunfire in or around the classroom is unacceptable and must be stopped. Others can quibble over what amount of gunfire in a school they want to call a ‘shooting,’ but Sen. Murphy remains focused on stopping such events altogether,” Harris said.

The Pinocchio Test

There are many ways to define school shooting. But applying the “reasonable person” standard, as is the standard at The Fact Checker, it is difficult to see how many of the incidents included in Everytown’s list — such as suicide in a car parked on a campus or a student accidentally shooting himself when emptying his gun and putting it away in his car before school — would be considered a “school shooting” in the context of Sandy Hook.

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.

As usual, the anti-gun lobby has blown the school shooting issue out of proportion, much to their own detriment.

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