Mother Jones and Media Matters bungle study on Mass Public Shootings

I have studied the topic of multiple victim public shootings extensively (see here and older discussions here, Chp. 6 here, and Chp. 10 here), though you would never know about the data on this from the Mother Jones study.  Among the claims, Mother Jones asserts:
We identified and analyzed 60 of them, and one striking pattern in the data is this: In not a single case was the killing stopped by a civilian using a gun. Moreover, we found that the rate of mass shootings has increased in recent years—at a time when America has been flooded with millions of additional firearms and a barrage of new laws has made it easier than ever to carry them in public. And in recent rampages in which armed civilians attempted to intervene, they not only failed to stop the shooter but also were gravely wounded or killed. . . .
Unlike Mother Jones, Media Matters references my op-ed in the New York Daily News.  In the first paragraph of my piece I made this point:
Friday’s horrible shooting in Colorado occurred in yet another place where guns are banned. And that’s consistent with a trend: With a single exception, every multiple-victim public shooting in the U.S. in which more than three people have been killed since at least 1950 has taken place where citizens are not allowed to carry their own firearms. . . .
The key is that Mother Jones defined multiple victim public shootings as occurring where "The shooter took the lives of at least four people."  Now take the two points together.  Mother Jones' claim that "In not a single case was the killing stopped by a civilian using a gun" is actually quite consistent with my point.  If they had read the first paragraph of my article, the reason that they couldn't find civilian defensive gun uses stopping the attacks should have been obvious: they only looked at cases where more than three people have been killed (or as Mother Jones says "at least four people") and I pointed out that all but one of those cases took place where permitted concealed handguns were banned.

Not only do these mass public killers avoid these places where guns are allowed like the plague, even when attacks occur in places where permitted concealed handguns are allowed they don't meet the criteria that at least four are killed because people with guns stop the attacks.

Indeed, since Mother Jones focuses so much on the Aurora, Colorado case, I should mention again that out of the seven movie theaters within a twenty minute drive of the killer's home that were showing "The Dark Knight Rises" movie, only one posted a sign banning permitted concealed handguns (see pp. 14-17).  The attack didn't take place at the theater closest to the killer's apartment and it wasn't the largest theater, the attack took place at the one theater where victims were not allowed to defend themselves.  But Aurora was not unusual -- time after time these multiple victim public shooters keep picking the rare cases where guns are banned.  

The article also focuses on the Sikh Temple and make a big deal of the fact: "During that time, the state issued a whopping 122,506 permits, according to data from Wisconsin's Department of Justice."  But again it is useful to know that the Temple also banned guns.

The very fact that Mother Jones ignores the entire notion of gun bans speaks volumes.

Media Matters tries to question the claims of the defensive gun uses that I raised in my New York Daily News op-ed.

In an op-ed for The New York Daily News published that same day, John Lott commented on the Aurora shooting by writing, "If one of the hundreds of people at the theater had a concealed handgun, possibly the attack would have ended like the shooting at the mega New Life Church in Colorado Springs in December 2007."(The incident described by Lott at New Life Church involved a former police officer, who was serving as a volunteer security guard, wounding a man who fatally shot two people in the church parking lot. The man subsequently committed suicide.) . . .
What is ignored in the Media Matters account is that Jeanne Assam was able to carry the gun at the New Life Church because she had a permit and as I noted in the New York Daily News piece: "the church’s minister had given Jeanne Assam permission to carry her concealed handgun."  Assam's former husband was a threat so she had gotten herself a concealed handgun permit.  Because of this threat Assam had asked the church's minister for permission to carry the handgun with her at church and the minister said she could do it and he would just call her a volunteer security guard.  Yes, Assam was a former Chicago police officer, as I have written previously, but it was the concealed handgun permit that allowed her to carry the gun with her in Colorado.

Media Matters also mentions other cases:
Gun rights die-hards frequently credit the end of a rampage in 2002 at the Appalachian School of Law in Virginia to armed "students" who intervened—while failing to disclose that those students were also current and former law enforcement officers, and that the killer, according to police investigators, was out of ammo by the time they got to him. . . .
Well, I have mentioned that both Mikael Gross and Tracy Bridges were former deputy sheriffs from North Carolina (Media Matters is completely wrong to use the word "current").  I have interviewed both of them and traveled down to visit the school, and they were in law enforcement for just a couple or a few years.  Again, both had concealed handgun permits from Virginia, the state where the law school is located.  The Washington Post notes that prosecutors used Mikael Gross to testify at the preliminary hearing.  The article by Josh White notes: 
". . . Odighizuwa accepted responsibility for the shootings that began after school officials told him that he was failing out of the program. On Jan. 16, 2002, he took a .380-caliber pistol to the offices of Dean L. Anthony Sutin and Prof. Thomas Blackwell and killed them before opening fire on a crowd, killing student Angela Dales, 33, and wounding three others. Odighizuwa was subdued without incident by armed students. . . ."
I am not going to waste much time on their assertion that the rate of shootings has been increasing since I have already dealt with this type of issue before in my research, but one clear reason for the "increase" is that they clearly didn't report all the cases and the earlier cases are particularly missing (for another view for the pattern over time see here, though has with most other studies they don't differentiate gang shootings from the type of mass shootings that get news attention).  Yet, the main issue is that these attacks keep occurring where guns are banned.  Even in states where permitted concealed handguns are allowed, the attacks keep occurring in the few places within the states where concealed handguns are banned.  Given that right-to-carry states allow permitted concealed handguns in the vast majority of places, if Mother Jones and Media Matters were correct, simple randomness would imply that most of these attacks should be in places that allow permitted concealed handguns.  Yet, that is not even remotely close to being true.

UPDATE: James Allen Fox demolishes the Mother Jones discussion here:

Not only is Mother Jones’s decision to disqualify cases based on certain criteria hard to defend, the criteria themselves were not necessarily applied consistently. Mother Jones included the 1993 Chuck E. Cheese robbery/massacre of four people committed by a former employee, but excluded the Brown’s Chicken robbery/massacre of seven victims that occurred the very same year, presumably because two perpetrators were involved in the latter incident or perhaps because these gunmen had no prior connection to the restaurant. 
Mother Jones also eliminated massacres involving family members, even though they too can involve large body counts, such as the massacre of 14 relatives and two others by R. Gene Simmons of Russellville, Ark. in 1987. Other massive shootings, like the execution-style slaughter of 13 in a Seattle club in 1983, were ignored because of their relation to gang activity or some criminal enterprise. Particularly mystifying is the decision not to include cases involving multiple perpetrators yet to waive this condition for two school shootings. 
Notwithstanding the questionable motive-based selectivity built into the Mother Jones analysis, it seems odd to ignore shootings with large death tolls just because there was more than one shooter or because the shooter was related to his or her victims. These incidents are no less devastating to the families and communities impacted by the crimes.
So how does the Mother Jones report of a rise in mass shootings stand up when considering the full range of cases? Simply put, not very well. . . .
UPDATE: Here is someone who is apparently relying on the Mother Jones' claims: "Latest Ed Schultz Whopper: 'We've Never Had a Civilian Stop a Shooting'."  Presumably, Schultz is relying on 
Would it be a deterrent if, you know, say perpetrators know that there's guns in the schools? How do we know they wouldn't view that as a challenge? I mean, we got a goofy world out there. I'm just not convinced that packing a small firearm is the best defense or certainly not the best defense. You know, you want to make the best defense? Make the school a damn fortress. I mean, you could do that, I mean but, is that reasonable? Is that the right thing to do? Is it necessary? And so I'm just, is it nec-, haven't we had enough school shootings where this is necessary? We've never had a civilian stop a shooting. . . .
UPDATE: Sam Wang over at Princeton Election Consortium also uses the Mother Jones data without apparently being aware that they don't get all the earlier multiple victim shootings.  Geez, is it surprising that you show an increase in the later period when you get all of those but miss many earlier cases?

UPDATE: From Reason.com, a very similar point to that raised above:
The second problem is that the underreporting in the Mother Jones list grows more severe the further back in time we go. When looking at the data by decade, we see that the Mother Jones list captured 89 percent of the 18 cases from 2010-2013, 69 percent of the 29 cases from 2000-2009, 55 percent of the 42 cases from 1990-1999, and just 32 percent of the 25 cases from 1982-1989. . . .

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Blogger Unknown said...

Thank you. The "no armed citizen ever stopped a mass shooting" argument, which ignores that all save one mass shootings have occurred in places that don't allow armed citizens to carry handguns is as bad as saying that the firearms homicide rate is lower in countries that have the fewest firearms; it proves nothing. I fail to see the difference between a firearm homicide, a knife homicide, or a baseball bat homicide.

Thanks for the refutation; I've featured it here: http://rationalityrebooted.blogspot.com/2012/12/the-aurora-colorado-shooting-you-didnt.html

12/31/2012 6:27 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

Michael Siegel refuted Mother Jones' claims based on how they ignore incidents that were stopped by civilians and pointed out that the supposed increase in the number of annual victims is not significant enough to base conclusions on:


5/30/2013 8:20 PM  

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