May 11, 2019

FLASHBACK: NPR (!) ON “THE SCHOOL SHOOTINGS THAT WEREN’T.”

This spring the U.S. Education Department reported that in the 2015-2016 school year, “nearly 240 schools … reported at least 1 incident involving a school-related shooting.” The number is far higher than most other estimates.

But NPR reached out to every one of those schools repeatedly over the course of three months and found that more than two-thirds of these reported incidents never happened. Child Trends, a nonpartisan nonprofit research organization, assisted NPR in analyzing data from the government’s Civil Rights Data Collection.

We were able to confirm just 11 reported incidents, either directly with schools or through media reports.

Related: America doesn’t actually lead the world in mass shootings.

The claim that the US has by far the most mass public shootings in the world drives much of the gun-control debate. Many argue that America’s high rate of gun possession explains the high rate of mass shootings.

“The one thing we do know is that we have a pattern now of mass shootings in this country that has no parallel anywhere else in the world,” President Barack Obama warned us. To justify this claim and many other similar quotes, Obama’s administration cited a then-unpublished paper by criminologist Adam Lankford.

Lankford’s claim received coverage in hundreds of news stories all over the world. It still gets regular coverage. Purporting to cover all mass public shootings around the world from 1966 to 2012, Lankford claimed that the United States had 31 percent of public mass shooters despite having less than 5 percent of the population.

But this isn’t nearly correct. The whole episode should provide a cautionary tale of academic malpractice and how evidence is often cherry-picked and not questioned when it fits preconceived ideas. . . .

Of the 86 countries where we have identified mass public shootings, the US ranks 56th per capita in its rate of attacks and 61st in mass public shooting murder rate. Norway, Finland, Switzerland and Russia all have at least 45 percent higher rates of murder from mass public shootings than the United States.

When Lankford’s data is revised, the relationship between gun ownership rates and mass public shooters disappears.

How could that be? One possibility is that guns don’t just enable mass shooters; gun owners can also deter and prevent such shootings. Another is that culture — not gun ownership — is a bigger factor in shootings.

The media should be wary of any researchers who fail to let others look at their data.

Well, you know, unless the researchers help the narrative along.

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