Monday, December 21, 2015

Fact Check: Obama on Mass Shootings

From the Washington Post (December 1):
. . . President Obama said at a news conference, “I mean, I say this every time we’ve got one of these mass shootings; this just doesn’t happen in other countries.” Is his statement true?

In one sense, the answer would be “yes.” President Obama’s statement was in the form of: “Every time X happens, I say Y.” As a historic self-description of Obama’s own rhetoric, Obama’s statement is mostly true, but only in recent years. When President Obama was running for national office in 2007 through November 2012, he never used mass shootings to compare the United States unfavorably with other countries. Nor did he use mass murders as an occasion to make political demands for gun control. This was his rhetorical approach from the Virginia Tech murders in April 2007, through the Aurora theater murders in July 2012.

. . .

Thus, the President’s Dec. 1 statement is mostly accurate as a self-description of what he frequently says, at least from December 2012 onward.

Is the president’s statement about “other countries” accurate? No. For example, on Nov. 20, 2015, mass shooters attacked a hotel in Mali, murdering at least 19 people.

Although President Obama has relatives in Kenya, his statement suggests a lack of awareness of events there. On April 2, 2015, criminals murdered 142 students at the University College Campus of Garissa, in northeastern Kenya. Among the other mass shootings in Kenya in recent years are those as Lamu (29 murdered, July 5-6, 2014), Mpeketoni (53 murdered, June 15-17, 2014), Majembeni and Poromoko (15 murdered, two days after Mpekoni) and the Westgate Mall in Nairobi (67 murdered, Sept. 21, 2013). Kenya, by the way, has extremely strict laws against the possession or carrying of firearms, as well as bows, as I detailed in a Quinnipiac Law Review article with Joanne Eisen and the late Paul Gallant.

On Saturday, Boko Haram attackers murdered four people in Nigeria, and four more in Niger. Last weekend, four Egyptian policemen were murdered in a drive-by shooting. As reported by CBS News the day before Thanksgiving, “Two massacres that killed 15 people in less than 12 hours rocked Honduras and left the country’s top cop in tears on Wednesday.”

Perhaps President Obama does not know about the above events or believes that for some reason that mass shootings in Africa, Asia or Latin America don’t “count.” This is a surprising perspective for someone who, in his autobiography, claims to have closely studied the works of radical anti-colonialist “Franz [sic] Fanon” and to have spent much time discussing “Eurocentrism” with his Columbia University friends.

Suppose we accept the president’s implicit premise that “other countries” includes only the most-developed countries of the West. With this limitation, what is the accuracy of his statement that “these mass shootings; this just doesn’t happen in other countries”? Plainly false, especially considering that the president was speaking in Paris, the site of multiple mass shootings on Nov. 13 and of the Charlie Hebdo mass shootings in January.

More generally, an October article in the Wall Street Journal looked at mass shootings in 14 countries from 2000 through 2014. The article reported the research of professors Jaclyn Schildkraut (State University of New York Oswego) and H. Jaymi Elsass (Texas State University). They are co-authors of the forthcoming book “Mass Shootings: Media, Myths, and Realities,” to be published in 2016 by Praeger. All of the countries had one or more mass shootings in this period, but the United States had by far the most. In terms of per capita fatalities, the United States was fourth, after Norway, Finland and Switzerland. Another article, at the Independent Journal website, provides a “Rampage Shooting Index” for 10 countries, covering 2009-2013. Again, the United States is first in total number of incidents, and sixth in per capita fatalities. (Behind Israel and Slovakia, as well as the previously mentioned nations). Updating the index to account for 2015 would put France ahead of the United States. (French data are reported in the I.J. article, but not the Wall Street Journal article.)

. . . Regardless of definitional boundaries, the broader point of the Schildkraut and Elass research is consistent with all the other data: The United States has more mass shootings than other most-developed nations, and a lower per capita fatality rate than at least several of them.

It would be interesting if the data were expanded to fully account for mass shootings in nations such as Mexico, Brazil, South Africa and Nigeria, where the homicide rate is far higher than in the United States. If we say that having an economy as “developed” as a member of the Organization for Economic Co‑operation and Development is what constitutes a “developed” country, then the U.S. gun homicide rate is about in the middle for “developed” countries.

As President Obama pointed out today, he has repeatedly made the same claim about “other countries” and mass shootings. When he did so last June, Politifact examined the issue, including the research of Professors Schildkraut and Elsass. Politifact rated the Obama claim “Mostly False.” Yet he continues to make the claim, speaking in a city with repressive gun control and which only 18 days ago suffered a horrific series of mass shootings. President Obama’s second book touted his “audacity,” and the president’s remarks today demonstrated chutzpah.
Why would Obama so badly misstate the facts? Quite simply, like liberal and leftist elites generally, he assumes that the socialist countries of Europe are better than America. Once one starts assuming that, actually looking at the data does not seem particularly necessary.

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5 Comments:

Blogger James Pawlak said...

"No freeman shall ever be debarred the use of arms"; "The strongest reason for the people to retain the right to keep and bear arms is, as a last resort, to protect themselves against tyranny in government"; "The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants"; “What country can preserve its liberties if their rulers are not warned from time to time that their people preserve the spirit of resistance. LET THEM TAKE ARMS.” "The laws that forbid the carrying of arms are laws of such a nature. They disarm only those who are neither inclined nor determined to commit crimes.... Such laws make things worse for the assaulted and better for the assailants; they serve rather to encourage than to prevent homicides, for an unarmed man may be attacked with greater confidence than an armed man." (President Thomas Jefferson)

8:03 AM  
Blogger KeynesianPacker said...

It seems to me like you're the one who needs to "actually look at the data." The study cited showed that the frequency of mass shootings *IS* lower in other developed countries. The study showed that the number of casualties in a few countries was higher, but not the number of incidents. With such a small sample size, a couple shootings in small countries could skew the data. From the Politifact article cited above: "Looking at Obama's claim by incident, the United States has a higher rate of incidents than Finland, Norway and Switzerland."
If you want to stick to your claim that the U.S. does not stand out among advanced nations in terms of the incidence of mass shootings, provide a new source.

The whole "he didn't mention Kenya" point is total nonsense. Obviously the relevant comparison is to other advanced nations. It's actually a politically correct argument based entirely on semantics - the type of argument you claim to despise.

7:51 PM  
Blogger John McAdams said...

So your argument is that the number of incidents, and not the number of fatalities is what matters?

That seems odd to me. As a citizen, I care about the probability of being killed, not whether I'm killed in a small scale shooting incident or one with many fatalities.

As for "a couple shootings in small countries could skew the data:" a small sample size can just as easily skew the data downward as upward. Run the data from an entirely different range of dates, and perhaps some countries with more deaths now rank below the U.S., but then some other countries are now above the U.S.

9:51 PM  
Blogger KeynesianPacker said...

"So your argument is that the number of incidents, and not the number of fatalities is what matters?"
You claimed that Obama is misstating the facts by suggesting that the incidence of mass shootings in the United States is significantly greater than in other countries. Not only did you fail to prove this, but the source you provided refutes your claim.

"As a citizen, I care about the probability of being killed, not whether I'm killed in a small scale shooting incident or one with many fatalities."
I agree, which is why it is more important to look at per capita gun homicides. Here, too, the U.S. has a much higher rate than the rest of the developed world.

"small sample size can just as easily skew the data downward as upward"
Not in this case. You can't have negative homicides. Can you provide a logical reason for why a higher incidence of mass shootings in the U.S. should not be expected to lead to more deaths over the long run? If mass shootings have an average death toll, the country with the highest incidence will have the most fatalities. More deaths in a couple countries over a small range of years does not change this.

You can debate the merits of specific gun control laws all you want but there simply is no denying the fact that the U.S. does have a much higher rate of gun violence than any other developed country. It also has a higher incidence of mass shootings, which was Obama's claim you erroneously characterized as mistaken.

3:00 PM  
Blogger John McAdams said...

I agree, which is why it is more important to look at per capita gun homicides. Here, too, the U.S. has a much higher rate than the rest of the developed world.

But the issue is mass shootings. Most gun homicides are not mass shootings.

Obama's policies really have nothing to do with gun homicides as a whole. He is talking about (and pretending to do something about) mass shootings.

Not in this case. You can't have negative homicides.

But you can have zero, or a small number for a year (or two or three), and then a bunch. To pull the average down, zero or one or two will do.

If mass shootings have an average death toll, the country with the highest incidence will have the most fatalities.

But this has not been the case. You are arguing against what the data show. You are positing that if we just wait long enough, the data will show something different. But you don't know that.

1:59 PM  

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